Friday, April 30, 2010

Hello, Tween Years

I was meeting with my sponsee at lunch time today when I got a text message from Nancy. Both mine and Sabrina's cell phones are on Nancy's Verizon plan; years ago Nancy had us, her own, her mother, and one of her friends as a 5-phone family plan that apparently was dirt cheap for her, and it's worked out amazingly well for a long time. Sabrina has had a phone since the first grade; I started her off on whatever Verizon called their Firefly, the four-number starter phone, and two years ago she upgraded to a Razr. She is actually due for another upgrade in a month or so... we've made changes to our plans, giving in to the texting craze. And Nancy's text told me that there were 83 dollars in "data charges" on Sabrina's phone. Which meant either she had signed up for apps somewhere, had downloaded something that keeps charging her, or was getting on the damn Internet from her phone.
Since she went to her mother's today and talking to her there, in light of yesterday's events, is going to be impossible, I went to her school and had her called out of class. I was proud of myself; I remained calm and said, matter-of-factly, that there were a lot of charges on her number and I needed to know where they were coming from, and if we couldn't figure it out, I'd have to take the phone and turn it in and get a Trac Fone. I honestly thought she had gotten some app from one of her friends; she has gotten very secretive recently with her texts, going so far as to erase her inbox and outbox every night before going to bed. At first she denied having any clue about anything odd--then eventually "remembered" that she has been checking out ringtones from VCZ. I happen to know, from the time I got popped with charges, that they charge you for listening to it whether or not you actually buy it. And she said she had sampled "a lot of them." Mystery, hopefully, solved.
I tried to use it as a teachable moment, and I did bring up the erasure of the mailboxes and that I did not like it and that it ceases as of today. She, scared of losing the phone, agreed. I am trying to allow her the room she needs to grow into her own person, and I doubt I am even going to check out her texts. But at 11 and in the fifth grade, she still needs some degree of accountability, because as we ruefully admitted today, it would take her a year to pay me back the 83 dollars. But she went to class relieved, and hopefully this will just be a learning experience.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

She Came From Planet Claire

This is a summary of my evening between 6 and 9:00 PM last night:

6:00 PM--Bill Pelella calls me when Sabrina and I are in Agway. First softball practice of the year is Saturday at 10 AM at West End.
6:25 PM--As we are driving home, Sabrina calls her mother to tell her about practice on Saturday. She hands the phone to me. I, trying to be magniminious, realizing that it will be a good chunk of Shannon's Saturday with Sabrina, offer to pick Sabrina up from her at 6 PM Sunday instead of noon like the agreement says. Shannon tells me that she wants to keep her until Monday morning. I say no, I'm not going for that. Shannon starts to get seriously pissy, telling me that she gets no time with Sabrina and I'm keeping her from her and I'm a control freak. I tell her, not for the first time, that Shannon agreed to this visitation agreement in court three months ago. I repeated that I was willing to pick her up at 6, and that I would pick her up and take her back like I did the last two years when practice happened to be on a day Sabrina was at Shannon's. She told me she would bring Sabrina there, and reiterated that she wanted to keep her until Monday. I said if that was the case, then I would pick her up at noon on Sunday like I normally do, and hung up.
6:51 PM Text from me to Shannon: "Just so there is no confusion at all, you said you bring her to West End Park Saturday at 10 for practice. I am picking her up at 12 on Sunday per visitation agreement."
7:03 PM Text from Shannon to me: "Really, so that's how you want to be. The papers also say as agreed upon. You don't want to agree to any extra time so you are taking control of my life like Sharon did to you. Then Saturday is my day, not yours, and you became coach to have more time and signed her up for softball without talking it over with me so you're breaking court order by doing so. Maybe she just won't go. I guess that's the only way I will be able to spend more time with her without you interfering"
Commentary: Yes, the order does allow for additional visitation as mutually agreed upon. I am willing to consider more time in some circumstances, but apparently I must agree to whatever idea she comes up with, or I am not willing to agree.
Shannon's reaction for twelve years to anyone who does not instantly acquiese to whatever she wants in toto is that the other party is trying to "control" her.
The reference to my ex-wife was when my ex-wife successfully kept my kids from me after we seperated--because I was a crackhead--and kept her from being around them after we got clean and were living together--because Shannon had accumulated seven different charges, including two prostitution arrests, over the previous three years, had lost both of her kids to DSS, and had just been put on probation for five years. I came to an understanding about Sharon's motivations years ago. Shannon never has.
I have coached softball for three years. Sabrina has played softball for three years. You don't have to re-enlist every year. The first year she played, I did in fact discuss with Shannon, per the order in place at the time, and she agreed to it.
Shannon is mad at me, so she will keep Sabrina from doing something she wants to do so Shannon's ego can be satiated.
And I repeat, the current arrangement was agreed to, not imposed by a judge.
7:10 PM Text from me to Shannon: "I didn't set practice time. Head coach--Judge Pelella, in case you forgot--did. I can guarantee you that if you don't let her go, it is not going to make her well disposed to you. You can also, in a few weeks, explain to Judge Pines why your hissy fit over you not wanting to abide by an order YOU AGREED TO in court and not letting her do something she's done for years entitles you to more of a role than you have now. You're proving my points better than any argument Casella could ever make. And FYI, I get along fine with Sharon and my other kids."
Commentary: the "Judge" bit was a reminder that when she was arrested for her Vicodin escapade last summer, she was arraigned in front of Bill, who is very aware of who she is and whose mother she is--which is one reason she was ROR'd with three felony charges. Pines can't stand her, either; he violated her once on visitation, in 2001, and told her if he ever violated her again, she would be spending a year of her life in Broome County jail, and Dan Casella, my lawyer, assures me that Pines brings that up every time we've been back in court since then in chambers. And I do get along all right with Sharon now, mostly because I got my own ego out of the way a long time ago and realized that the current set-up works best for the kids.
7:37 PM Text from Shannon to me: "That's why you only get one day with them. The only point you are making is that you have control. Well, I'm not afraid of court because I am a fit parent and there is no reason to take her from me. I'm not the one that always says no extra time with her, you are, and when we shared the weeks evenly I always said yes to extra time with you. This is all on you whether or n ot our daughter gets to play softball on my days simply be at least allowing her to spend extra time with me once in a while."
Commentary: As mentioned, I spend Sundays with my older kids because it's what's best for them, not me (see blog post "Sundays" from last summer). Although her judgment can be questioned because she is 0-for-5 lifetime against me in court--I have never left Family Court against her without at least the minimal order I went in looking for-- and she should be afraid, no one is looking to take Sabrina away from her--it's an issue about whether I should go out of my way to give her extra time. Whatever tiny chance there was for me to give a little vanished when she crassly held Sabrina's ability to play softball hostage to her ego. It's a practice, and the world won't end because of one missed practice in any event, but more importantly, I'm not giving into to this kind of blackmail bullshit. And I repeat: she agreed to the present visitation agreement three months ago.
And just for the record, until Sabrina was about 7, Shannon was forever fobbing off Sabrina on me on Saturdays and some Fridays--in one case, actually making her go with me when our paths accidentally crossed at Citizens Bank. I still rarely asked over the last four years; it was Sabrina that insisted on spending more time with me.
7:44 PM Text from me to Shannon: "Well, I was saying 6 instead of noon and that wasn't good enough for you...you do what you want on 'your' time. As I said, she's not under any illusions about what's what."
Commentary: And Sabrina isn't. It was about at this point when she told me, because her mother was texting her, too, while all this was going on and blaming me for her not letting Sabrina go to practice, "I'm not mad at you, Daddy."
7:50 PM Text from Shannon to me: "She really is. All I asked is to take her to school. You, instead of saying you want to take her you say you want some of Sunday. Is it really too much to ask for extra time? You have all week with her."
Commentary: I never said a word about wanting time Sunday. She is admitting that she has no interest in taking Sabrina to school on Monday, should she have her. Wants all the good parts of motherhood with none of the responsbility.
7:56 PM Text from me to Shannon: "Yes, it is. Because that was the agreement YOU AGREED TO in order to keep joint custody. The ink wasn't dry and then you've tried to weasel out of it. Your word means zero. I'm done with you."
Commentary: This is the issue. Shannon has the foresight of an earthworm, and has said whatever she has to say to get her through the next five minutes for most of her life. She never seems to understand that when she says she is going to do something, that the other people there seem to expect her to keep her word. She never does, unless she is forced to, and never fails to get seriously pissed off when reminded that she did in fact agree to something she finds it inconvenient to stick to. To wit:
8:09 PM Text from Shannon to me: "Bullshit. I was forced to agree. I didn't in no way agree. I'm not the one that uses everything against the other so stick it with the 'I agree' bullshit. Everyone in that court room knew I didn't agree. I'm not the only one that has made misstakes so get off that line of bull Am I having her till 6 on Sunday or not?"
Commentary: You can't make it up. For the record, the judge asked her, "Ms. Anderson, is this agreement what you want?" and Shannon stated, "Yeah." There is a term when someone states something under oath that they have no intention of living up to. It's called "perjury," and it's a felony that people go to jail for. I cannot believe that she actually put this on record; you better beleive that this text is being saved to be pulled up when needed. And notice now how we are back to 6 o'clock, which has been off the table since the phone call 90 minutes ago?
8:15 PM Text from me to Shannon: "No, you are not. I will pick her up at 12 noon on Sunday. You work out softball with her."
Commentary: I'm done. There is nothing left to work with here.
8:24 PM Text from Shannon to me: "Your choice. You are still in violation of the court order. You have said in the past you can always work with me about our daughter. Well, we all know that's a lie. By the way, on Sunday You can call her at 12 sharp and she can come down to you. I will hand her the money to give to you. Thanks for working for me--not. She can also leave the cell with you so we can have our time."
Commentary: Because I will not do what she wants when she wants me to, I am in violation of a court order? File it. Immediately. Let's see how that one plays out.
The bit about the money is that she still owes me from the money I lent her when she was unemployed to pay her bills. Not to beat a dead horse, but I also gave her my Suburu when I got this car I'm driving now. Yes, that's right. I don't expect bootlicking servitude, but is it too much to ask for some perspective, a hint that perhaps she owes me just a speck of gratitude? And the cell bit is just petty and weak--it has ate at her for four years that I pay for Sabrina's cell phone, and that Sabrina has an outlet to the outside world when she is at Shannon's home. But I'm the one with control issues.... right.
The reason I find it more difficult to "work with" Shannon is that she is losing her fucking mind. This is what I deal with more or less regularly. I have walked the full mile with this douchebag, and my feet hurt. Her friends--if she had any left, because she treats them all like this-- ought to tell her that there are people who have died for less.
I am done. I'm not going to harm her; my daughter, as much as she gets hurt by Shannon, still loves her mother. But there is a growing patch of frost inside her that is hardening to full-fledged ice.



Book Review: THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, GEORGE

"George" being our moronic ex-president. Thanks For The Memories, George is Onion writer Mike Loew' caustic summary of the Bush years. Every lowlight--from the stolen elections that made him and kept him President to the illegal wars to his raping of the national treasury--is covered in detail, to the point where it is hard to pinpoint where the reality ends and the sarcasm begins. Although I think Loew gives him a little too much credit--he didn't and doesn't have the brainpower to actually have had a master plan-- nonetheless there is a great deal of honest truth beyond the venom. And while Obama is definitely an improvement, there is one glaring omission on his resume so far, one reversal that absolutely has to happen for any hope of any sort of national recovery to take place that thus far has not and shows no signs of happening--getting these hemmorhages of foreign wars over with. And that will be the longest lasting of the Bush legacies; the permanent disposal of most of the national wealth fighting enemies that we shouldn't have in places we shouldn't be confronting them in ways guaranteed not to be effective.
Bush and his administration officials were more than incompetent and venal. They are war criminals. I would love to see someone pull a Pinochet on him, and take him for trial somewhere else. I have strange fantasies in middle age... it's not going to happen. But it ought to.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: ON THIN ICE

On Thin Ice is science writer Richard Ellis' book on the plight of the polar bear. I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book, for two reasons. One is illogical; the author shares a name with the individual I'm not real fond of. The other isn't; I have read Ellis' Imagining Atlantis, and did not like it at all. That objection was relevant when reading this effort; Ellis' style of writing does not agree with my eyes, and I found much of this book tough slogging. There were interesting parts of it, most notably the chapters on the effect global warming is having on the bear, and the sidebar discussion on the rapidly disappearing ice cap in the Arctic. The rather depressing conclusion, alhthough it was not news to me, is that the polar bear is doomed, and that the Arctic ice cap is as well, and if that happens, we're all in a lot of trouble. And it's going to happen probably in my lifetime, and most certainly in my daughter's. I know I sound like a broken record on the subject, but the only real solution to the environmental problems facing us is a whole lot of people currently living no longer drawing breath.
And a good place to start would be with the part of the population that doesn't want to make any efforts to make environmental changes a priority because it's "bad for business."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

True Confession Time

I am many things. I am decidedly liberal in my political leanings, I am unquestionably an elitist, and I have a very healthy disgust with the yahoo element of this country. And yet I find NASCAR fascinating. I tried to deny this to myself for a couple of years, but time and again on Sundays, I found myself in front of the television watching guys drive in circles, riveted to the screen, until last fall I more or less copped to it and no longer feel guilty about it.
And I can't even really explain why. I am normally violently opposed to all manifestations of corporate America, yet the cars and the driver uniforms are unapologetically crass walking billboards, and plug their sponsors every change they get and invent a few opportunities to do so on top of those. I am no racist, yet NASCAR is an overwhelmingly white phenomenon, both in the participants and the fan base. I loathe the South and everything it stands for, and the series derives from and is still largely based in rebel country. But I tune in every week, go to the NASCAR page every day on ESPN.com, and find myself thinking about all the various little subplots in the sport during the day. I can't explain it; it just is.
I have my favorites, and I have some I don't like. Another anomaly is that I normally don't like "winners" in sports, but I have always had a secret admiration for Jeff Gordon, one of the most successful drivers of all time. But I have to admit that I have become more interested in him recently, as he has struggled against the success of his own teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who wins all the time. It's come to a head the last two weeks, when Johnson has caused Gordon to wreck twice and cost him legitimate chances to win, even though they are on the same team. Gordon is pissed and rightly so, and I am hoping that he plasters Johnson against the wall next race...
I am also up on all the other subplots. I loathe Danica Patrick. I'm not a fan of Junior, and find his streak of failure the last few years perversely satisfying. I like Tony Stewart. I can't stand Carl Edwards or Denny Hamlin. I find myself secretly liking the Busch brothers, who are thisclose to being a serious pair of pricks. I just drink all this stuff in. Again, I don't even really know why, other than driving a car is something everyone thinks they can do. I would love to tell you I am too highbrow for this stuff. But I'm not.
I draw the line at buying and wearing any of the merchandising stuff; you won't see me in a DuPont 24 jacket or anything like that. But watching the races? Yeah, that's where I usually can be found, even on fall Sundays when the Vikings are on TV. I think my father is spinning even faster in his grave than he normally is.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Irony Is Delicious

I have held a few positions in the Narcotics Anonymous Service Structure before-- three, to be exact. I served as secretary for a year back in my second year clean, and caught nothing but shit from Wes and his band of surrogates. I was Newsletter Chair for two months in 2003, filling out someone's term, and was hounded out of the office by the same crowd because I actually put together something someone might want to actually read. I was Hospitals and Institutions Chair for two months two years ago; I quit when rules that were bent or ignored for the previous three occupants of the position were suddenly trumpeted as all-important to follow by, you guessed it, the Messagemaster Himself and his band of hypocrites. I swore after that episode that I would not only never again hold an NA office, but I would do nothing that would enable the service structure, as it exists in this area, to persist in enabling a small group of control freaks and ignoramases a wider forum to disseminate their peculiarly skewed and flawed view of "recovery." I only contribute to the basket at our home group once a month, to make sure we have literature; I usually boycott group conscience and when I am there, I always vote against making a donation to the Area Service Committee; and the only ASC sanctioned event I attend is the free Unity Day Picnic in July. I take my recovery seriously, and one way I show it is to not co-sign egotism and attempts to impose one viewpoint on all addcits, and to not allow myself to be set up as a straw man for attempting to help addicts in a way which doesn't involve worshipping--nee, deifying-- the Messagemaster.
So when Kristen emailed me saying some poor sucker I've never heard of was taking on the Newsletter position, but wanted some suggestions on how to go about it, I replied that my only suggestion was that he not take the position. Now Danny Agron's daughter, whom I didn't even know was in recovery, sent a similar request, which I answered by saying, in effect, "let him ask the people who always seem to know the 'correct' way to do things whenever someone not in their tribe has an Area position." I find it very ironic that the guy who the boobs, on three different occasions, couldn't get rid of fast enough suddenly has something to offer after all. But I'm not taking the bait; I'm not Charlie Brown to their Lucy, trying to kick the football. I honestly feel that the interests of the recovery community around here would be best served if Area didn't exist. I've been hearing for four years about how no one will take positions; that's what happens when a small bunch of overbearing, hypocritical, hypercritical assholes carp on every view expressed, every action taken, that their Lord and Master doesn't give his assent to. The parrots are more annoying than Wes himself, who at least came by his assholiness honestly, by working his program; the rest of them are like cult followers, blindly obedient to the icon.... I have to tell you that I have been just fine without Area in my life for three years, and I could care less whether some sucker I wouldn't know if he walked in the room knows what the "proper" guidelines are for some none-too-important position.
As I told her, let one of the asskissers get off their knees and take a position of responsibility. I'm done with all that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: NURTURE SHOCK

I realize that those of us with children are a burden for most of us who don't have them, but they are simply the axis that a parent's world revolves around, ideally. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being responsible for another human being, of being the single greatest influence (ideally, there's a partner involved, but some of us are not that fortunate) in somebody else's life. I am not going to write a full-fledged paean to parenthood here, but I am going to say I would not be the person I am, for anyone that is part of my life, without having the experience of being a parent. It is, with all apologies to those who do not have children, the single most edifying and fulfilling experience that a human being can have. And it is, ultimately, beyond mere biology, how we make a (very small) contribution to the world, that our children become assets and credits to humanity and to the world at large, rather than burdens and parasites. The criteria for that assessment is necessarily elastic, with a great deal of gray area, but nonetheless most parents, in their guts, know whether they have done the best they can do for their children. And again, most parents are always 1) on the lookout for ways to be a better parent, and 2) seeking some sort of validation for the effectiveness of what they've already been doing.
Which is why books like Nurture Shock always grab my attention. Po (?) Bronson and Ashley Merryman were already vaguely familiar names to me, from their occasional articles on parenting and child development in Time magazine, but this is the first book they have collaborated on. And it is engrossing and fascinating reading, because it is an entry in a genre of writing I always have time for: an evaluation into whether conventional wisdom actually is borne out by real-life experience and effect. Unlike much of what I read about, I have extensive experience as a parent. I have done 90% of the work raising 11YO Sabrina, and have had a significant effect on almost 16YO Rachel, as well, since I was a large part of her developmental years up till age 4. Conversely, I have had little effect on nearing-14YO Jessica, since I left her home when she was 20 months old and wasn't too involved for a year before that. I have always believed, and even more so as all three children age and develop, that my role, small as it was, is the major reason why Rachel and Sabrina are so similar, while Jessica, while still a great kid and very accomplished, nonetheless is markedly different than the other two. I have also developed very strong beliefs about what is and isn't good parenting, and I was very eager to see, when I got this book out of the library, whether 1) research agrees with my ideas, and 2) if there are studies showing I have been doing something I shouldn't do, how bad the damage is going to be. I ended taking notes as I was reading of the book's major areas of focus, and related to my own parenting of my own kids, and also as to commonly held views as to what is and isn't good parenting. I am going to touch on most of the areas the authors do, and when using terms like "right," with the understanding that clinical research is proving those approaches to be most effective. Most of the time, I am going to leave out the reasons why, so as to give someone interested a motivation to buy or check out the book.
1) The entire self-esteem movement has been pervasive in this country for about 25 years. There have always been dissenting voices, and I always was somewhat in agreement with them. I suffered enough verbal abuse when I was growing up to take some tenets of the principle seriously: for example, I never told any of my three children that they were "bad," only that I didn't like what they had done. But I was never comfortable with 24/7 praise; intuitively, it just seemed like overkill, like a Groundhog Day or an-every-day-as-Christmas strategy. With Sabrina, especially, while I have been very strongly positive with her all her life, I have made an equally strong effort to challenge her to try her best, to always give an effort, and encourage her to try new things and not to get too caught up on results. And it turns out this is exactly the right way to approach things, that mindless effervescent praise is essentially meaningless, that the more effective strategy is to praise effort and that a parent should be encouraging individual initative rather than simply say, "oh, you're great," all day every day. That is the way that a kid builds real confidence and self-esteem--by actually accomplishing things and learning how to problem-solve, by seeing failure as a learning experience, not as an indicator of personal deficiency.
2) This is becoming more of an issue as Sabrina ages: sleep. One of the many objections I had to her mother's parenting was the entire issue of sleep; she lets her children stay up too late and does nothing to make it a pleasant experience--from infancy onwards, she just sent them to bed. I always tucked her in, read to her for years, made sure she has had special things associated with it like the Grandma blankie, her teddy bear, her pillow, and the chocolate milk. Even at 11, these things are still present. I refuse to allow a television in the room, and will never bend on that point. And most importantly, I make sure she has always had a consistent and early bed time. She went to bed at 7 when she was 2 and 3, 7:30 up through kindergarten, 7:45 through second grade, increasing by 15 minutes a year to the present 8:30. Whenever she pestered me about staying up later, I simply said that I would consider it when I didn't have to wake her up in the morning--which most of the time, I still do. And I firmly beleive that it has been a huge factor in why she is as bright and well-adjusted as she is. Not only does she get enough sleep, but she has not been exposed to more of the mindrot that is television and entertainment programming. My biggest issue with those who allow kids to stay up well past the time they should is that they are not really doing anything constructive with the extra time. The kid that lived upstairs for almost 3 years, who was 2 when we got here and is about to turn 5 now, has never had an early or a consistent bed time, and I am convinced that the emotional problems (they are not hideously bad, but they are present and not really improving) that she exhibits are related to the sleep issue. I know all the reasons why it was allowed, and I understand where the mother was coming from, but it was and remains a poor choice, and I was glad to see that the evidence on the issue agrees with my views. And my views have been validated by the best possible source: Sabrina herself. Many nights, Sabrina will go to bed earlier than 8:30 because she is tired; I never have to fight with her to go at 8:30 in any event, even on days when she does not have to get up for school; and most tellingly, she shared with me last week that she and her friend Reilly, by far the two most accomplished students in her class, are the only two in that class that go to bed at 8:30--everyone else stays up at least until 9 and some as late as 11! In Sabrina's mind, the connection is clear, and that has clinched the deal for the foreseeable future. She has already petitioned for an increase to 9 o'clock in middle school--but school starts 40 minutes later at West Middle, too, which is the biggest reason she wants to. I'm fine with it.
And as an aside, schools across America are finding out that starting the school day later dramtically increases every concievable positive measure of performance in students. Binghamton's elementary schools start at 7:50 and the high school at the same time--but both don't do much of anything for the first hour or so they are there. When I was at high school, the first period was a free, "extra help" period; we were in the building, but really didn't have to do anything until 8:47. I think that was a contributing factor to what a good school Union-Endicott was, by every measure imaginable, at that time, and one the current school administration there would be wise to consider returning to. The main objection to doing so seems to be that it is somewhat more inconvenient for the adults involved with education to start later--but adult convenience really should not be the primary factor in youth education. Period.
3) Race is one of those great unmentionables for most parents, yet we seem to be doing our kids a disservice by not mentioning it unless absolutely necessary. Because kids notice it immediately; it is so obvious a differentiating factor that it is impossible not to. But the main result of parents making strenuous effort to be color-blind is that kids think there is a major problem with their parents for not noticing the obvious. This is another area where I deviated from the norm, but it was almost a necessity to do so, given that Sabrina has been around Narcotics Anonymous, which is quite possibly the most integrated and diverse little mini-society on earth, for her entire life. Not only were Aldo, Anthony, and Drew major pieces of the mosaic of Sabrina's first decade of life, but other NA kids were, as well. I have talked many times with Sabrina about the challenges that black and Hispanic children face that she does not have to, and it has made a difference. She was one of the few white children that Jazmine Edwards liked and trusted when she was at Roosevelt, and Sabrina's girls group at school that meets every week is two white kids and two Puerto Rican kids that get along wonderfully. Which is meaningful because even in elementary school, kids have already more or less self-segregated themselves, in activities that are not regulated or intitiated by adults. Does this mean that everything is going to be wonderful as she gets older? Not necessarily. But at least it isn't, as it is for many, a problem now, and there is a chance that it may not ever be one.
4) Lying is an issue every parent faces. I admit that this chapter disturbed me as I was reading it, but after processing it for a day, I understand where they are coming from, and I feel I have at least framed the issue correctly for Sabrina. I have always asked--told, really--Sabrina that the one thing I will always get upset about is being lied to, but I have also been very, very adamant about not flipping out and punishing harshly when she cops to something. Still, I know I get lied to on occasion, and it has bothered me, even though I have not always reacted to it. It turns out that I have been playing it pretty much the way that is healthiest, because lying, at least according to the research, is a necessary developmental stage for youth and adolescents, a way to build social skills. Intellectually, it makes sense--but it doesn't make me feel any better as a parent. And the best thing one can do to instill a sense of integrity and honesty in your kids is to be rigorously honest yourself, a standard I have lived up to for her entire existence and a place where most adults fail, miserably. And I made a connection long ago that the authors play up here that few other adults do: that to a small child, any deviation from announced plans is considered a lie, even if to an adult, changing circumstances made the deviation necessary. To take two rather graphic examples: a) for years Sabrina has said that only "lie" she remembers me telling her is that when I said I would be at dance practice before it ended, and due to some issue or another, I actually arrived just as it was ending. To an adult, having to deal with a work emergency or traffic is a legitimate reason for being late, and no moral element is involved. To a kid, though, you said you were going to be there, and you weren't, and therefore you lied. It's black and white; b) Sabrina's mother is not an honest person in any case, but Sabrina's main complaint with her is not any of the untruths she uses as a matter of course in her life. It's the changes of course that occur with dizzying frequency, the lack of commitment to announced intentions. The "attempts" to quit smoking have been too numerous to list over the years, and Sabrina has taken it as an indication that her mother's word is meaningless. The failed relationships are another prime example; revolving door romances are indescribably harmful to a parent's image in their child's eyes. I feel I have been more responsible than most in this area, and I do feel that I get lied to less than other parents do. But I would like to not get lied to at all, and accepting that it is going to happen, and happen more frequently as she moves into full-fledged adolescence, is going to be difficult for me.
5) The whole concept of "gifted" children is one I have always taken at face value, simply because it was very clear very early in their lives that both Rachel and Sabrina were very precocious and bright, and have remained so as they age. But I was not aware that most schools IQ test at age 4--and never do it again. This is, franky, ridiculous; what kid can be accurately pegged for life at age 4? What kid is done developing at age 4? Both Sabrina and Rachel made it into Binghamton's and Johnson City's programs for gifted children, and have stayed in the 25% that have in fact been above-average in those programs. But that doesn't mean the programs are responsible. Binghamton, at least, has made some efforts at making this less ridiculous; Challenge doesn't start until 2nd grade--age 7--and kids do get added and dropped as performance indicates.
6) Sibling rivalry is real, and kids who do fine in social settings often treat their siblings badly. The reason for this are explored thoroughly, and the time-accepted explanation--fighting for parent's atteniton--is demonstrated to be wrong. The cause is that unlike most social settings, siblings are going to be around no matter what, so there is no motivation for compromise and adjustment among the kids. This doesn't affect me a great deal, as Sabrina is the only kid here most of the time, but it was interesting to read about.
7) Manipulative behavior is innate; it is a social skill that is a necessary developmental stage. This ties in with the lying; parents are going to be manipulated by their children. I don't like the idea, and I will have to learn to accept it as normal, not evidence of a moral deficiency.
8) The development of verbal skills and vocabulary particularly interested me; it was the one area that my effect on my kids was most pronounced, I believed. I spent a lot of time with Rachel and Sabrina when they were babies, and I caught a lot of crap from many people around me--including family members--for talking to them as much as I did, and as an adult would. Both Rachel and Sabrina were early and prodigious talkers, and have remained exceptionally skilled in all verbal areas. Jessica, whom I was not around at that stage of their life, is normal, perhaps a little above normal, but not on the level of the other two. I always beleived that I had done the right thing by them, and it turns out I was right. I wasn't aware of the exact mechanism until I read the chapter in this book, but I did, intutitively, exactly what one is supposed to do to promote exponential explosive growth in language development. The larger principle at play here is simply that nothing--nothing--is an adequate substitute for attention. Children learn best from their parents, in all areas, not just language, and a parent that is actively engaged with their children will see their children develop well. Period.
And I have seen this professionally as well as in my own children. I am in the midst of our annual data collection and analyzation at my job, and two pieces of information scream loudly that involved parents are the solution to a whole lot of youth problems: 1) in 7+ years of having a runaway/homeless program, I have never worked with an only child. A child that gets parental attention is invested in the family enough so that leaving it is not an option. 2) Over 80% of the youth that present to the four main agencies that deal with runaway/homeless issues for youth in our area under the age of 21 come from families where the parents are divorced, separated, or never together. It goes without saying that a youth has a better chance of getting positive and necessary attention in a home where two parents are present, not one.
So I felt pretty good--and pretty validated--after finishig this book. But any parent who is interested in what's best for their kids ought to read this book. It is informative, it is eye-opening, and it might just make your life easier as your kids grow up.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Interesting Meeting

Last night, for the first time in what seems like ages, I was at my home group early. I was in pretty good space, since the work grind seems to be drawing to a close and there is no major drama going on at the moment. When I got there, I caught up with Aldo for a few minutes. He is getting so skinny that he looks like a different person, and with the coming of spring, the motorcycle is out and he has been riding everywhere. There were a few people I had not seen before, one person that I used to get high with who is in Supportive Living at Fairview and seems to be making a good go of it, some of the usual suspects, and me.
The format was round robin, which is not my favorite kind of meeting, since it's easy to get held hostage, but the numbers were manageable so that it looked like it was going to work, and it in fact did; everyone got a chance to talk. And the meditation was one of the topics, and it was one of my favorites in the entire book: a Higher Power of our understanding. Because, not to be overly dramatic, that is the entire hinge that the door to a better life for me, not just staying clean, swung upon.
I was done when I got clean, but that does not mean that recovery was easy for me. There was a lot of "God talk" in the Twelve Steps, and I wasn't willing to hear it the first couple of years I came around, because I had been Catholic and I had been Orthodox and I was sure--sure--that there was no God because those religions were so riddled with inconsistencies and dogma that did not stand up to examination that they were unpracticable. I was there to put and keep down drugs, anyway; who the hell needed to talk about God, anyway? I went through about two years of this, and one thing that became abundantly clear, even as in other areas I did everything--service work, working the steps with a sponsor-- one was encouraged to do, is that the benefits that many people talked about, such as a more serene existence and a sense of purpose in my life, were largely missing. I wasn't feeling the need to get high again, not front and center, but I sure wasn't feeling like I was happy, either.
Brian was my first real sponsor, and he chattered on about God all the time, and while I am very grateful to him because he gave me a lot of knowledge about the program and helped me through some very difficult issues the first year, I ended up dropping him because I started to feel, rightly or wrongly, there was a gap between his talk and his walk.  I was very lucky to catch Aldo as he was dropping another sponsee; Aldo was part of my then-home group (as an aside, I look back at that home group and wonder how the hell some of us didn't kill each other. Aldo was the doyen of the group, abo--ut 8 years clean at the time, and while he was and is a more mellow sort, he also is not to be trifled with, and he did clash, civilly, with just about all of us at one point. And then there were the others--me, with all my self-righteousness; Rich A., who was stubborn as it gets; Al Ortiz, who is as combative and hard-headed as they came; Charlie/Musa, who at that time was did not have the ability to function as a part of a group; Arthur/Dawood. the single most long-winded man I have ever met; Kristen; Ed Marshall, my first sponsee, who was and is another hard-head;  Molly, who was another with substance who didn't play well with others; and Louis, who was another very obstinate, tough-as -nails type who had a lot of trouble staying clean. Louis and Dawood are dead now, losing their lives during relapses, but everyone else is still around in some form or another, so there was some willingness in that bunch. We certainly had to learn to disagree without being disagreeable, which for just about everyone there was an accomplishment like climbing Mount Everest in shorts and a T-shirt), and I was impressed by the way he was trying to live his life by principle and putting the program into action. There was one small problem, I found out years later; while I liked Aldo, he didn't like me, not as I was then--still essentially the arrogant spoiled rich kid that I had been most of my life. But he agreed to take me on, believing, he has told me a few times, that I would be gone in a matter of months. But he was the perfect sponsor for me, in that he had no ego issues-- many sponsors view themselves as their sponsees' Higher Power; Aldo very much was and is not that way--,his own core values were unshakable, and he was very much of the view that you lived your program as part of your entire life--dealing with work, family, and the world at large as a recovering person. You practiced the entire program for every minute of every day, not just staying clean, not just talking the talk, but living by principle even when dealing with non-recovering people and in all situations, not just those where other people were watching. And that was what I needed; I came to realize that was what I actually wanted
And for several years, Aldo and I danced a very complicated minuet over God and religion. Aldo had never gone to church, and to make a long story short, did not have the baggage I (and most others in the rooms) did about religious beliefs, and was in the midst of trying Christianity seriously when we started working together. I was skeptical and had no qualms about sharing my views with him, but between watching Aldo live his life and getting to know Pastor Ken McIntosh, the man who led the church that Aldo was attending, I had to accept two basic truths: 1) Neither Aldo nor (especially) Pastor Ken was a fool; on the contrary, these were two of the most intelligent people I knew. And they believed in this stuff--Aldo was always seeking certainty but never really found it, and over time never went completely ass over head with it, but Pastor Ken was and is a true believer, and 2) they were indisputably happier and more spiritually centered than I was. As I delved deeper into stepwork, and got to know Ken better and actually began to attend the non-denominational church more or less regularly, I began to realize the basic truth that was the foundation of Narcotics Anonymous Higher Power belief: that our understanding of God was our understanding--not the Vatican's, not any other sect's or prophet's, not any acquaintance's, but ours.
What an awesome and frightening concept...Most people will say that their concept of God is their own, but the reality is that they are taking someone else's word for it. Which is sad, especially for people who say that their relationship with God is the most important thing in their life. If it is, and you can't be bothered to do anything on that front other than believe what someone else told you, then how meaningful can it really be? And as a result, it really doesn't work for them.
I will spare you the long version, but the short version--and much to my surprise, Ken was very supportive in this process-- was that all of the things that bothered me about religion and God came down essentially to the problem of evil in the world--how could a all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God allow it? None of the explanations I ever heard, and I listened in good faith to dozens of them over the years, ever resolved the issue for me; it just was an irreconcilable conundrum. But in the course of my stepwork with Aldo, one thing that kept coming up was open-mindedness--what we call today thinking outside the box-- and I learned that in order to resolve contradictions, one has to reconsider whether the basic underlying assumptions of the thought and belief process could stand up to intense scrutiny. And as Aldo and I talked a couple of times a week about these matters, layers of opacity were being stripped away almost weekly. Aldo was and is a devoted and serious parent, and one thing he was huge on was setting a good example--not just talking about doing the right thing, but actually doing it and letting your kid see how you actually lived by principles. One day he said, almost casually, that a kid does not have any real ability to process God in an abstract sense until middle school years (which made sense) and then "a kid doesn't think about God as a Higher Power. Their Higher Power is you, and their ideas about God, when they start to think about those kind of things, are going to be their views of you." And when he said that, I instantly saw that so many of the "issues" I had with God were so intertwined with the issues I had with my own father as to be indistinguishable. I made a commitment right then and there to be a better and more selfless parent--Sabrina was 3 at the time--and the results have been beyond any of our wildest dreams. And also to take this "God stuff" a lot more seriously.
Which led to the next logical step. Everyone, to some degree, talks about "God the Father," how it is a paradigm that seems to work for many of us because a parent is supposed to unconditionally love their children and care about them, much like God is supposed to do for us. But as Sabrina grew, and I began to experience this unconditional love both on the giving and receiving end, an epiphany occurred one day (it was a Saturday afternoon when I was coming up on four years clean; I will never forget it as long as I live) as I was driving to the old 1:00 PM Saturday meeting. I loved my daughter more than I loved anyone else in the world, indescribably more deeply, and wanted the best for her and wanted to protect her and guide her and keep anything bad from happening to her. But even at age 3, I realized I could not control her, nor prevent things from happening to her if she was really bound and determined to make them happen. In other words, despite my best, flawless intentions, and despite my undoubtedly ability to influence and guide her, I could not control her or make her do things. And it clicked inside me that this is the true state of our relationship with God, that God really is like a father in that sense. Free will is a real thing, but most people don't look at it from the other--God's--side of it; He doesn't intervene because He can't intervene. Like a child, once we gain cognitive ability, once we are capable of independent thought and mobility, we cannot be controlled, and no one can make our decisions or take actions for us.
In a nutshell, the contradiction, the underlying assumption that was incorrect, was not the existence of God, not that He was all-good and all-loving, but that He was all-powerful. God can guide us, God is always there to turn to if we wish to, but God is not capable of imposing His will on the world. He can only make it clear, like a parent, what His will is. It is up to us to follow that course, and if we do, we are better for it. But we have to make a conscious choice to do so; we can't be forced to and there is no magic "erase" button to undo the effects of those human beings who choose not to follow His way can have upon our lives. Since that day, as I began to truly believe in that concept of a Higher Power based on that framework, the world has made a lot more sense; it fits the world as we see it on a daily basis a whole lot better than the Jesus-was-crucified-for-our-sins concept, frankly. All those annoying and disturbing questions about how God and evil co-exist and how does He allow it disappear when one loses the presumption that He actually has the power to make it go away if He so desires. And if one reads the Bible with this idea in mind, one can see that it is fairly obvious that the idea is true. There are many instances, to take one example, where God or the LORD is calling for someone in the Bible or looking for them. The traditional pious view is that it is some sort of test or even game that God is playing, but the most simple and logical explanation is that God is calling out looking for someone because He doesn't know where they are, just like you or me would be asking that question if we were looking for someone.
There are obviously differences between God and us; the flaws, the self-centeredness that mark all of us. I think Satan or the devil is simply a personification of this innate human characteristic--Satan, after all, is supposedly not in heaven because essentially he acted on his own will rather than follow that of God. We can always choose to return to God, and when we do, our problems lessen and our lives become better. The more God-like we become, the better we and those around us become. That's it. That's the secret. God doesn't send us to hell; we send ourselves there. And we can take ourselves out of it, too, at any point. The concept of "punishment" after life is also self-inflicted, I have to come to believe. I cannot imagine a more tortured existence than not having access to anything that I wanted. If one lives their life in the pursuit of worldly things--money, sex, the opinion of others--then eternity is going to really suck, because what your soul most deeply wants is permanently unavailable to it. If your soul earnestly desires things of the spirit, then at least in the afterlife we still have a chance--I hope it's a good one--to get what we most want.
And I think that's part of the God picture, too. God wants us to choose to return to Him because it is possible to have that last forever. But if we don't work on it while we are living in this existence, then we're not going to be able to work on it after we die, I don't believe.
I will never be convinced that this is not the case, because ultimately the proof is that I am at peace internally, that my life does have purpose and meaning, and that that yawning void in my soul is no longer there. In other words, it works. And that was the ultimate promise of recovery--a meaningful relationship with a Higher Power that gives us a sense of spiritual fulfillment and, not incidentally, removes the specter of drugs and drug addiction from us. I say fairly often in meetings that while relapse is theoretically possible for me, I can't imagine it happening because there is no real reason to. I like and enjoy my life; there's no need to escape from it, no feelings that I cannot deal with. I take comfort in my relationship with God today, and it is all the "narcotic" I need. And I don't have to be a part of a sect that I can't share the beliefs of in order to enjoy that relationship; indeed, the times I have tried to fit in with a larger group have only resulted in feelings of alienation, like I was watching some primitive band of Neanderthals groping their way forward in the dark. Ken was very accepting of views like mine because he believed that living by the ideas and message of Jesus was more important than what path one took to arrive at that point. Ken very strongly believes in the premises of Christianity, but accepts that following the gospel as preached by Jesus is much more important than the rituals that a particular community of believers follow. I have met precious few clergy who share that view, and even fewer members of churches.
Ken is in Arizona now, living his gospel and making Flagstaff a better community. Aldo has backed off the church aspect as years have passed, but remains as committed to ever to living by spiritual principles. And so do I. One reason that the only meeting I am truly comfortable being a part of anymore is my home group is that several people who share this view congregate here, too. And I can see that some who struggle with the Higher Power issue keep coming around because they still are searching for concepts that work themselves, and are attracted to hearing what some of us who have moved further down that path have to share on the subject. We all have differing, to a degree, ideas on God, but none of us are dogmatic, and all of us are comfortable in our relationships with God without being complacent about it. And that is the best and most valuable manifestation of "If you want what we have to offer, and are willing to take steps to get it." Keep coming back; it really does work.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Review: FEAR

Fear is another Jeff Abbott offering. I like suspense novels, am even willing to suspend, to a degree, any sort of nagging realism, and this is pretty well done for the genre, better than Abbott's other efforts that I have read. The body counts are not terribly high, only one character comes back from the dead, and the underlying subplots are interesting and serve as plausible motivations for the people involved. As usual with these kind of books, I have a major quibble, though: people who get shot with bullets do not just grimace and get on with it, and certainly are not performing feats of strength that weightlifters would sign for ten minutes after getting shot. Other than that minor detail, I liked the book, enough so that if and when Abbott's next book comes out, I'll probably check it out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Report Card

Yesterday was Sabrina's parent/teacher conference, and I am pleased to report that in all areas, including socially, Sabrina is very much exceeding grade expectations. Binghamton uses a numbering system of 1 through 4, with 4 being the highest, and her card was almost entirely 4's. Her special teachers--gym, music, Challenge, the counselor--all gave her glowing reviews, as well. Mr. Vasquez even said that she was a pleasure to have in the class, adding that she was a big reason that this is the best class he's ever had.
She deserves all the credit; she's a great kid. But I also am feeling a little validated as a primary parent today. I long ago felt that the time to parent, the time to instill values, was the time before middle school, and the older she gets, the more convinced I am that I am right. She is at the age where independence is starting to stir, where her social interactions are beginning to precedence in her own mind over her interactions with adults, and where she is beginning to comprehend adulthood in her own right. And all the signs point to the core values I so desperately want her to have--integrity, a sense of fairness, compassion, giving others fair attention, a value on learning, intellectual curiosity-- being present and functioning. One of the things her teacher told me was that she is that rare kid who is both very helpful to the teachers and is respected and liked by all the kids--no "teacher's pet" and no attitude issues. I know she's kind-hearted, that she is not prone to taking ethical shortcuts. She's less lazy about learning than most of her peers, and is definitely curious about the world and isn't afraid to try new things--for instance, she has become quite the seamstress this year. It's a great feeling when you realize that you actually do have a great kid, and that you've done well raising her.
But it never would have happened without me setting an example. I don't make decisions based on expedience. I don't take moral shortcuts. I am curious about the world, more compassionate then I ever dreamed possible (if not quite as much as I'd like to be), very fair, showing her that she matters to me (and others, as well) by paying attention. Kids learn what they see. A sign that used to be on my wall at my old office was "Kids tire of adults who give direction without providing it." I've tried to provide it, and there are times like this when it appears that I have succeeded. As I've said, her great grades and the grand testimonials to her character are hers to treasure--but I know I have had a role in it.
And it feels good.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: WHEN SNAKES AWAKE

When Snakes Awake is an older book on a subject one used to hear a lot about in the 1970's but has fallen into disfavor, earthquake prediction. Helmut Tributsch made a rather extensive study of earthquakes in recorded history (up to 1978) and found a great deal of anectdotal evidence of peculiar animal behavior before earthquakes (and also natural phenomena such as lighting and ground fogs, but those are less numerous and convincing). Although there is a natural tendency for people to "remember" things after the fact, there is a long and documented history of people noting curious animal behavior, and in one case, the Chinese government issued a warning based on animals freaking out--which came to pass. One reason that interest died out in the media on this topic is that it isn't anything like 100% predictive, but then, few things are. The author, a chemistry professor in Europe, made a rather thorough investigation into possible causes, dismissing many, but eventually putting forth a hypothesis that the earth releases charged ions into the atmosphere as the tension underground builds, and that animals are much more sensitive to it then people (who also react in the presence of abundant charged, usually positive, ions in the atmosphere in abnormal ways) do. It seems as though this idea was another 1970's idea that has been relegated to obscurity, but unlike most, this seemed to have had some merit to it. In places like California, it might not be a bad idea to at least pay attention to what Fido, Fluffy, and the rest of the animal kingdom are up to.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Geography

I thought about titling this piece "Becoming an Old Man," because I was going to go on one of those "When I was in school" rants--but then I remembered that I was an anomaly in my own generation on this subject, too. I never ceased to be amazed by how few people, kids and adults, actually know where other places in the country and (even more so) around the world are. Geography always, always fascinated me; one of my favorite things when I was a young grade-schooler was a puzzle of the United States. By the time I was in second grade, I knew every state and every state capital; the reverse was a map of the world, and by the end of the third grade I had mastered that, too. And for the rest of the time I was in school, right up through college, I never met anyone who had as good a grasp of geography as I did and do. It turned to profit on occasion. Two examples: 1) there was a bar in Geneseo at the time I was there called Uncle Waldo's. Every Tuesday for several months during my junior year, right after the game Trivial Pursuit had become a Big Thing, the bartenders would ask a question from the game after they made your drink. If you answered correctly, you didn't have to pay. I did not miss a geography question, ever (and damn few of the other ones, for that matter). 2) I once got a check for $50 from whatever studio owned or owns Jeopardy because they incorrectly had put up (on a $1000 question, no less), as the question for the answer "This is the longest river in Europe" as "What is the Danube?"
Anyhow, I have long accepted that hardly anyone is going to be my match in this area; I no longer feel that you are mentally deficient if you can't name the countries that used to be Yugoslavia or don't know what the capital of Uruguay is or know what time zone the west coast of South America is in. But I still get annoyed that very, very few people know even the basics, even those that are otherwise very intelligent and knowledgeable. My daughter Sabrina is perhaps the smartest fifth grader in her school, and actually, when pressed, managed to write down 48 of the 50 states (she had Puerto Rico and New England as states, and missed Hawaii and Vermont). But knowing the names and being able to point to them on a map are two different things; she has a lot of trouble knowing where virtually any of the other states are, and isn't too sure where the major cities of this state are, either. My oldest daughter Rachel is a candidate for valedictorian for her class at Johnson City High School; as the tenth grade winds down, she's pretty much disposed of all the competition but one boy. And this is what got me thinking about this...
Rachel has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 2, literally. She has never wavered, and has been fairly clear since about the seventh grade that she wants to go to Cornell because of their veterinary school. Earlier this year, she told me she had been doing some research, and not only is Cornell hideously expensive, but she found that even being valedictorian did not guarantee admission there (I know; the valedictorian in my own class of 1981 was not accepted there, and he was a great hockey player, too), and was starting to look at alternatives "just in case." She had told me at the time that Drexel, in Philadelphia, was the second-closest, but that was pretty expensive, too. So when she was here Sunday, I asked her what she was thinking now, and she's back to Cornell, partly because it wasn't Drexel but Penn, in Philadelphia, that has the vet school. She told me she had done more research, and there were something like 27 veterinary schools in the US, and almost all of them were state schools far away. We looked, and they were. I then asked, "What about Canada?" and she said she had only been able to find one, and it was in Calgary. I said that didn't sound right, and we proceeded to look it up on Google.
And while we were waiting, it became very clear that she had no idea where Calgary was. At first, I was blown away; I am a big fan of the NHL (and Rachel, surprisingly for a girl, likes hockey, too) and the Flames are the pride of Calgary. I also remember that the Winter Olympics were there (although before I said something, I remembered that it was in 1988, which I recall more or less clearly but was six years before she was born). But more to my point, Calgary is a very large city, the biggest city (not Denver) in the Rocky Mountains, the 4th largest city, population-wise, in Canada, the country next to ours and a place Rachel has been to several times. I ended up telling her it was in Alberta (which at least she had heard of) as the Google page came up. It turns out that there are 8 veterinary colleges in Canada, three of which are actually within a day's (long) drive of Binghamton. One is in Montreal, which she immediately ruled out because of the language issue. One is in Prince Edward Island, the smallest Canadian province, which she again had no idea where it was other than it was on the Atlantic side of the country. One is in Guelph, Ontario, about 40 miles west of Toronto, and about 5 hours from here by car, which she was intrigued enough by to tell me she was going to do some further research on it. She has been to Toronto several times and liked it and Ontario, and it's going to be cheaper than Cornell, most likely. So at least it got her thinking.
And maybe she'll get to know more of Canada, too. It is, after all, our neighbor, not some backwater in Africa. I can only hope.
(and to answer some things brought up in this post, the longest river in Europe is the Volga; the countries that used to be Yugoslavia are Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Macedonia; the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo; and the west coast of South America is located in the Eastern Time Zone. And yes, I know this without looking it up)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review: THE WORLD'S TALLEST MIDGET

The World's Tallest Midget is an older book, published in 1987, of Frank Deford's Sports Illustrated columns. Deford has a reputation as the best American sportswriter, and although I am not 100% in agreement with that proposition, he is good. There are several stories in here about otherwise unknown subjects, stories you never heard of, that are remarkable and will stick with you, even if the subject matter was 30 years ago. Being that it is a best-of anthology, there are no poor efforts in the book, either, and the book was a thoroughly diverting way to spend a dreary weekend.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Goldman Sachs Mess

I just finished a book a few days ago about the near-collapse of Wall Street a year and a half ago, which occasioned the government essentially throwing away $700 billion dollars on "assets" that will never, ever be worth much more than cents on the dollar to Wall Street firms that are legendary for greed and total lack of redeeming social responsibility. Goldman Sachs was the Wall Street investment bank that was perhaps the healthiest when this was happening, but also caught a lot of scrutiny because a lot of the players were former Goldman Sachs executives. The book I read also showed GS in a rather poor light, in that even as the system was crashing, there were several people in high places at the firm (to be fair, JP Morgan execs were guility of this, too) that still were concerned about competitive edges and maintaining hte obscene levels of compensation and bonuses for themselves. The bailout happened, but not without a lot of people in and out of Congress holding their nose, because the architects of the plan were largely Goldman Sachs alumni. GS did little in the first year to redeem themselves in the public eye by hastening to pay back the money so that they could pay their execs more outlandish bonuses; the near-implosion of the economy (or so they were arguing when the crisis was hitting) dulled their appetites not a whit, apparently.
And so the news now that Goldman was shortselling its own clients is not exactly a shock. The Wall Street gang are all bad, but Goldman is their perceived leader, and denials notwithstanding, the addiction for making money that has been given free rein for over a generation now makes it all too likely that it is true. And if it is, then what?
There is only one solution is likely to curb any excesses, and I am not talking imprisonment. I am talking complete, total expropriation of every asset the firm has, then taking every asset that everyone that works for the firm has beyond what six month's unemployment would be paying a minimum wage worker, then blowing up their headquarters, then forbidding everyone who ever worked for Goldman Sachs since 1980 from ever working in any job that handles money in any way for the rest of their lives. Oh, yeah-- they would be forbidden to leave the United States for a period of ten years, too. And if they balked at all at any of the terms--then summarily execute them and fill a container ship with their corpses.
Then and maybe then, some of these human tumors, these boils on the asses of humanity that are our supposed economic drivers, will actually start to get it, and maybe the blind, addictive pursuit of "more" can take a back seat to actually providing a decent standard of living for as many of the people in our nation as we can.
Don't hold your breath. Most of the government, or at least those in the financial departments, come from places like Goldman Sachs. I'm telling you, we're heading for a revolution. The more stuff like this comes to light, the better I understand how things like 1789 and 1917 happened in other lands.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Book Review: TOO BIG TO FAIL

Too Big to Fail is New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin's extremely detailed reconstruction of the major financial crisis that rocked first Wall Street and then the rest of the country in the late summer/early fall of 2008. Sorkin does a very good job reconstructing the events as they unfolded, and apparently had access to all of the major principals in the affair; the result allows the reader to make some sense of what happened in a dizzingly short period of time. While the Wall Street people don't necessarily resonate with the reader, the government officials that played a major role--current Treasury secretary Tim Gauthnier, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and then-Treasury secretary Henry Paulson-- do, and even if one can take issue with some of the actions taken, one gets the sense of just how hectic and harried they were at the time.
There were three areas I wish were explored in greater detail, but as massive as Sorkin's tome is, they really aren't part of his normal beat, so it is excusable that he didn't get into much details about. One was the total leadership void coming from the White House. It is amazing how little input Bush had, and the few glimpses of him in the book simply reinforce my already-crystallized view that he was a moron in way over his head. The man was and is simply incapable of analytical thinking; everything that happens must fit into a preferred view, and he cannot process any information that does not fit. The second is that the culture of greed and excess, while touched upon, is seen as fairly normal, but as Sorkin's livelihood depends on access to these people, now as then, it is understandable why little judgement is passed; indeed, the few peeks at Sorkin's own life that are revealed indicate that he is invested in the values of the culture himself. The thousands of employees of the firms involved and the taxpayers are talked about in the abstract, but there is no sense of real connection to them, and how the financial chaos that was ensuing was affecting the vast majority of us.
The third area is beyond the full scope of any book, I suppose, because it's taken decades to occur and the effects are just now becoming apparent. There are no real new sources of wealth in this country. We aren't making anything; we are just passing the same money around, figuring out ways to make money off what we already have. And that can't last indefinitely. There is a lot of talk in this book about "toxic" loans and mortgages and other financial instruments, but very little about what made them toxic. But anyone with open eyes and an ability to connect dots understands that the economic trend of the last 35 years or so--and even more so in the Bush years-- was simply a gigantic Ponzi scheme, that the "money managers" were raking off the top in ever-increasing numbers while less and less came into the system from the bottom. The raking in has abated some, but the second factor continues unabated. The future of this country's economy is not bright at all; the collapse that everyone fought so furiously to avoid in 2008 is going to happen, probably within the next decade or so, and one of two things is going to happen. One is the preferred outcome: that the massive redistribution of wealth upward is reversed, and a majority of us are provided with basic needs while a new model (based on much older models--basically tariffs and the like--and would mean a reverse of globalization) is implemented.
The other is unrest, reaction and revolution, and a whole lot of us dying before the dust settles.

Friday, April 16, 2010

OK, This Time For Real

Tonight, a week late, was Kate's actual celebration. I am not going to repeat what I wrote last week, other than to say it's all still true. Tonight was a bit less over the top as far as the crowd; no drama queens and divas tonight--well, none of the major leaguers, anyway. It was a good meeting, and I saw Jeff, my former sponsee, for the first time in forever tonight. Jeff was the only one who got through The Twelve with me, and he remains full of gratitude and admiration even after I rather abruptly dumped him at the end of the process. There are times I feel a little bad about that, but I also know after years and years of sponsoring multiple people at a time, it was time to just move on.
But tonight is also the actual tenth anniversary of Kathie, which was another reason I wanted to get to the meeting. Kathie and I have been pretty close for most of the last five years; we're close in age, we share a rather liberal view of the world, we both grew up around here, and both of us grew up when we accepted the responsibility of raising a daughter because there was no one else to do so. I'm not going to get into an in-depth analysis of her character and psyche, other than to repeat what I told her ex-husband when I was sponsoring him: she is possibly the most fundamentally decent woman I know. She loves me and respects me, but not in that way; there was a time when I really would have liked it to be more, but it does not really affect the friendship in any way, mostly because it was not a lust issue for me, but simply because I really like her, as a woman, and the fact that she is very physically attractive is not the main reason why. She just is a great woman and a very good friend.
The toughest test was a couple of years ago, when a sponsee of mine who was a serial womanizer took serious advantage of her, despite my warning him not to and despite his knowing of my rather deep feelings for her; I ended up with huge resentments toward him, and took out some of them on her, as will happen in our less vigilant moments for allowing it to happen to her. We worked through it, and we are just close friends while maintaining better boundaries than we used to; it seems to work better this way.
And today marked her first decade clean, which was and is simply remarkable. She was part of my peer group, the rather large bunch of first and second-generation crackheads that were running out of gas about 1998-9. Some of us, like me and Kate and Drew and Billy McArthur and Nancy, put it down at that time and never picked it up again. Others had more trouble, and Kathie was one of the most tenacious users; she was in and out from summer of 1999 to April 2000, so much so that I distinctly remember seeing her at her then home-group after she had a few weeks clean and thinking, "I wonder how many weeks it's going to be this time." It's been 521 and counting... Miracles happen in Narcotics Anonymous. Kathie is one of the few in the fellowship who knew Lila well; I never got high with Kathie, but I remember seeing her around when I would go pick up Lila in addiction at some of the houses she was staying in. I remember her as a really skinny bitchy type; she said she doesn't remember me then, but remembered me as being angry in recovery until about two years after Lila was gone, which was about 2003, and she wasn't imagining things, because I was. Another woman knew both of us in addiction, and she has told me that it just blows her mind that these two patient, understanding, and bursting-with-integrity people are the same two people she used to get high with. And it blows mine, too. I never dreamed that what I was really looking for was peace and serenity, and that it could be found in recovery. I know Kathie never thought it could, either. And yet here we are.
I will be at her home group (which used to be mine; I helped start it with her, actually) Monday for her actual celebration and medallion presentation. And even though that meeting draws 80 people regularly, I'll deal with it; like tonight, it is one of those things that I want to do. Kathie never fails to mention how grateful she is for the people in her life and to God for allowing her the chance to live the life she's leading now, and once in while, it doesn't hurt to let her know that we're all grateful that God has let her be a part of our lives, too.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Milestone

Today was another big step on the road to full adolescence for Sabrina. This was the first of the two April half-days for parent-teacher conferences, and after a few half-hearted attempts to find somewhere for her to go in the afternoon, she begged me to leave her home for the few hours in the afternoon I had to be at the office. I thought it over, and figured that since she will be walking home from school and letting herself in and spending a hour or two alone in five months, I might as well let both of us wade slowly into that pool now. So I brought her home at 11, did what I normally do at lunch-- eat, put away the clean dishes, check the mail, pull dandelions. And then I kissed her and told her I loved her, put in her last Twilight Zone DVD and put her phone by her, and left.
I called every 45 minutes for the three hours I was gone; she answered every time, and was beaming when I came home at 3. She said she feels like more of a big girl now, and that she enjoyed the experience, although she was glad I did not work until 4. I wonder how I will handle her natural desire to become more independent as she gets older. Today was a baby step in that direction for both of us, but one that needed to be taken. But I am very proud of her, and a little proud of me. The toughest thing about parenting, I am finding more and more, is realizing that times come more often when you have to trust that you've done the best you can do and that is time to stand back and watch. Today was one of those times. More will be coming, almost daily at times, but I hope all of them go as smoothly as today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Joy of Discovering

Sabrina's class is taking a field trip tomorrow to the high school, to the Foley theatre for a special program celebrating Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone. Sabrina initially wasn't terribly enthused about the idea, but as she read a little bit about the TV show, she became sort of interested. Today in her Challenge class, I guess the show was the topic, and when we went to the public library after school, as we will once a week when there is not something like dance or Odyssey of the Mind, I went to what I call "the big people" section and she wandered off to the children's area, and when I caught up with her, I saw her using the search engine for TZ material. I had told her a couple of days ago that I liked the show, had since I was her age, and the library did have a collection of the entire series--but on VHS. Today, she told me that our VCR still works, and she wanted to get a few out, most of all one with Talking Tina, which another kid had told her about.
So we got to the video section, and lo and behold, the library now has the series on DVD. She got three out, 12 episodes in all, and has been watching pretty much since we've been home. She did her homework while watching, ate dinner while watching, and is still there. I really don't mind; after being so exposed to so many mind rotting Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickeolodeon products, I am frankly glad that she is taking an interest in quality programming, stuff that makes her think. She still is only 11, and I have to be aware; the Talking Tina episode was cut short, for example, because it upset her when the doll threatened Telly Savalas. We have agreed that this one, the 9th Floor episode, will be the last before showering and reading and viola, but she has a week to get through the rest. And she has already said she plans to get the rest of them out of the library.
That's my girl. That's what I like to see. That's the purpose, as I see it, of education as a whole--not to score well on standardized tests, but to provoke thought, to exercise and develop brainpower, to teach rather than to merely train. and most of all, to allow every youth to pursue the areas they find interesting, to go in their own directions. Sabrina is already one of the more intellectually stimulated in her class; she's been part of the Odyssey of the Mind for a few years, Challenge even longer, will occasionally get very into books (not like I do, but at least it happens a few times a year) and at least is very proficient in reading, and in general has an active and healthy imagination. And it will serve her well as she gets older. But for now, I'm just enjoying watching her enjoy something special as she experiences it for the first time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thoughts on the World of Sports

I know I pay too much attention to sports, but I did spend much of yesterday watching TV and seeing two events that I cared about come to an end. One only lasted four days--the Masters--and one had lasted for about six months--hockey season. The Ranger season ended first, in a goddamn shootout, which I really think is a gimmick that has outlived its usefulness. Conceived as a way to put "excitement" back in the game and eliminate ties, what it has done, the record is pretty clear, is become an overall detriment to the game, for several reasons. One is that the proliferation of three point games--the losing team gets a point--means that traditional team point totals have become meaningless; a 90-point team used to be a borderline Cup contender, not a team that really is .500. Two is an argument that only really is noticed by old stat freaks like me; there are missing goals in team stats that make it much harder to judge the contributions of offensive players in a team context; winning (and losing) shootout goals are credited to the team without being credited to the individual players. The third is the most insidious because it has acheived the opposite of what the shootout was designed to do--by subjecting goaltenders to 50-75 breakaways every season, any goalie worth his salt has gotten so used to them and become so effective at stopping them that very, very few goals are scored on breakaways and odd man rushes in regular games, which has actually driven goal totals down and henceforth depressed offense. The riding-a-poor-idea-into-the-ground-and-calling-it-wonderful is de rigeur under the Gary Bettman regime; hockey was a great sport in the early 1990's and catching on in popularity around the world, when he became commissioner; under his poor leadership and inability to make even ordinarily bad (as opposed to catastrophic) decisions, the sport has become an irrelevance, something only hardcore fans care about. I don't have the stomach to go through the last two NHL decades here, but suffice it to say that no sport has had a worse commissioner in my lifetime.; even Bowie Kuhn was better than this. But the Rangers should not have even been playing with for a playoff spot yesterday; they are a horribly average team with two very good players (Gaborik and Lundquist), and even if they had won the shootout yesterday, what is the point in getting swept by Washington? It's time to blow it up and start over. I've got some ideas...
The second was the golf tournament. Not only did one of my favorite golfers, Phil Mickelson, win, but more importantly to me, that asshole Woods guy lost. He butchered a number of holes, and was actually quite lucky to be in the hunt for as long as he was. And I can't wait until he is away from the uber-controlled Masters environment and has to face his adoring public. And while there are a surprising number of "fans"--let's call them what they are, "frontrunners"-- who seem willing to still root for him, the longer he goes without winning, the fewer their number will be. And in normal tournaments, there are going to be hecklers. I can't wait to see how he handles it, or hopefully doesn't handle it. I want to hear a gallery shout en masse, "Grow up!" when he has a hissy fit, or ask him where his wife is, or in general make sure he knows that just lamely admitting to "mistakes" ain't going to do it. And this week was a good start in that direction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review: PAUL NEWMAN

Paul Newman is an extensive, thorough biography of the iconic actor, by Shawn Levy. Unlike most works of this nature, it is not a fawning fan letter, nor is it a hatchet job. It is an even, balanced, very readable look at the man's entire life, which most of us are dimly aware transcended his acting.
Newman was perhaps the biggest movie star in this country when I was in grade school and beyond. I ended up seeing most of his earlier movies at one time or another, but the first movie of his I really remember as being a hit was Butch Cassidy, and the first "grown-up" movie I remember being taken to was The Sting, both of which I enjoyed immensely (maybe because there were no seqiuels to them; Newman very rarely succumbed to the temptation of doing a film merely for the money). He made a lot of films, not all of which were good, but there were several I remember watching and liking, if not necessarily enjoying (Fort Apache, The Verdict, Absence of Malice), and thinking at the time that this was a guy who could make any movie he wanted and chose to make darker, thought-provoking dramas that did not revolve around the fact that this man was so strikingly handsome. The last movie I remember seeing that he was in was The Color of Money, which one of my friends derisively referred to as "The Making of Money," a sentiment I agreed with entirely. Newman finally got his Oscar for that role (a year after getting a lifetime acheivement Oscar), and I honestly don't remember him making any other movies during the time I was dating the first Sharon and then my wife, which is the last period of my life I went to and watched movies regularly during.
What I do remember of him over the last 20 years of his life were three things. One was his unabashed and constructive liberal politics; he was very public with his views, and unlike most Hollywood types, wasn't hypocritical about it; he put his money where his mouth was and he actually lived the way he spoke (he was famously married to Joanne Woodward for the last forty-five years of his life, although this book revealed to me that he did have an affair in the late 1960's, but they worked through it and by all accounts was a good husband and a father who at least tried to be a father to his six children). The second was part of the first; Newman's Own went from being a novelty to a brand empire, and even more than the money going to charity, the fact that the pasta sauce is good amazed and continues to amaze me (I'm not a fan of Italian-type salad dressings, and the other offerings haven't really interested me, but the money does go to charities, and again, few others would have had the ability and balls to pull off what he did in that area) The third was his accomplishments as a race car driver; I remember him being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Daytona as the crowning acheivement of his hobby/obsession/second career. At 70 years old. Read that again; the man was part of a winning race team in the most demanding race event in the United States, at age 70; one of his teammates was Mark Martin, at that time around 40 years old, which is oldish by NASCAR standards. Most people 70 years old have a hard time not turning left from the right lane... and this guy wins a Daytona race. Amazing. And by all accounts, he earned the thorough respect of the entire racing community; he was no dilettante behind the wheel, and his CART and IROC race teams were champion outfits. One can quibble about whether racing is an appropriate outlet for grown men, but Newman turned himself into a professional-caliber driver and giant of the sport after beginning to drive competitively at an age when most drivers are ending their careers, and continuing to be well above average for an incredibly long time. Just absolutely mind-boggling, and perhaps the most telling commentary on how focused he could be and how hard he worked at anything he chose to do.
I also had no idea that Paul Newman was a functional alcoholic for virtually his entire life. The man's beer consumption was amazing and no secret among his peers; he drank as much of a case of beer a day, from the time he woke up till the time he went to bed.
And finally, for me, Paul Newman is associated in my mind with one thing, one movie, one accomplishment, above everything else. It was a movie that fed an already-awake obsession with a sport and pushed me into playing enough to become an accomplished player. It was a snapshot of the beginning of the end of the industrial age, especially in cities like Binghamton. It was side-splittingly funny. It was a look at the reality of what playing a sport at not-quite-top level was--bus rides, drinking, the silliness, the forlorn hopes--and it was a window into what the men playing for the local team (the Broome Dusters at that time), the men I watched all the time, did when they were not playing--hell, most of them were in the movie. Looking at the movie today is a time capsule of how the sport used to be played, and how much has been lost by the sport's effort to clean itself it up, the improvements in equipment, and by requiring that certain equipment be worn. The sport is ice hockey, and the movie is Slap Shot. Someday I will post something about my favorite movies, and this is defintely one of the biggies that I could talk about for an hour because thirty years later, I still remember all the scenes and dialogue. I was just learning to play hockey when the movie came out, and although realistically I knew that I had started too late to get good enough to play professionally, and that I was too short to really have any hope of that anyhow, nonetheless seeing how an older actor (he was 52 years old when the movie was made) was fitting in with professionals, even though in an edited movie, inspired to give it my best shot. And my best turned out to be pretty good, all things considered.
This is an excellent book. Most biographies of "important" people should aspire to be this well done, this balanced, and this informative.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moving Day

Not for me, to be sure. But Nancy, my upstairs neighbor, She Who Owns the House, is moving into the very large (according to Sabrina) home she and her fiance recently purchased in Vestal. I am not going to be around the house much today, so that she and her motley crew of movers can finish the job that she and Mike have been doing for over a week, and by nightfall, I would think, that is going to be that.
Nancy and I go back a long way. Her clean date is twenty days ahead of mine, and for the first several years of recovery, we were friendly without being particularly close. She has been a part of the other side of the fellowship since the very beginning; her home group has been the Thursday night meeting and her support group has always been the bunch of people surrounding Wes, which certainly, considering that most of them considered me a minion of the Antichrist (Aldo), limited our contact for years. She was also caught up in several relationships with guys who did not stay clean, whose major virtues seemed to be bodies chiseled from marble (well, that's not fair to Larry, who does have some substance to him), which led to an unbelievable amount of chaos in her life. She ended having a kid with the most useless of them, and her life began to change drastically; that was the point, when Charli was about a year old, where we started to get close. We ended up hanging out a lot, doing a lot of things together, even went on vacation together in 2006, and Nancy served as a very strong positive role model for Sabrina at a critical time in her life. With Charli's father essentially out of the picture and Nancy taking motherhood and career (she is a top local insurance agent, making close to six figures a year by now) very seriously, life, as 2006 turned into 2007, went in a very unexpected direction.
It's hard to spend as much time around someone as we did without developing some sort of feelings, especially when she wasn't dating anyone. We never did anything physical at all, and I think she ever even really considered it. For a time, I thought about it, but the realistic side of me knew I was very different than anyone she had ever been attracted to, and as well as I was getting to know her, I knew that if for some reason it did happen, I would not be happy, because there are some characteristics she has that are bearable in a friend but would drive me to anger in a significant other. I remember sitting around one night over at her house on Macon Street and she said something about how overwhelming it was to work, take care of a (very needy) toddler, and try to keep a house in order, and then uttered the words, "I wish I could have a man around without actually being with one." And that was the germ of the living arrangement that eventually came to pass. She bought a really nice two family house, the one I live in now, with the express purpose of having me on the ground floor to take care of the maintenance and the mundane tasks, and also as a safety measure (she has issues in that area; she has her fears that may or may not be borne of experiences, but they are nonetheless real, and my presence nearby literally allowed her to sleep at night). I pay a lot less in rent than I would in any comparable dwelling, for basically shovelling snow and doing things (taking care of the yard and gardening) that I very much like to do. It's a good arrangement, a great arrangement, and one that has allowed me to expand my own horizons about what is and isn't possible. It's great to live in one of the few nice areas of Binghamton that are left, instead of a rapidly deteriorating neighborhood that got flooded three times in 18 months. It's great to be able to have Sabrina live within walking distance of the better middle school, instead of having to drive her to the worse one. We live within a ten-minute walk of West End Park, and a three-minute drive to Rec Park. I have a garden again; one of the great holes in my life after my divorce has been filled. I have a basement. I can put up Christmas lights. I have people with actual jobs and who have retired for neighbors. In short, I have been able to return to the womb, in a way; I am a child of suburbia, and although I am living in the city, it is a lot more like what I grew up in and what I knew as a married man than the apartment existence of the last two years of active addiction and the first 8 years of recovery.
And it never would have happened without Nancy, and for that I am eternally grateful to her. More than I can ever really express. And it has been good to remember all that. I know for a fact that I am more mature than I ever have been, and that my spiritual side is relatively healthy, because I have been able to maintain that perspective. When you live in this close proximity to someone, you notice and have to deal with things that you would not have to otherwise. The first several months there were difficult, for both of us, and although we survived with friendship intact, the closeness did not survive. I can't speak for her, but there were some things said and done that wounded, that I thought were unnecessary and uncalled for, and the dynamic necessarily changed.
At the beginning of last year, she began dating Mike, and then her mother died shortly thereafter, and it became very clear by this time last year that the 38YO spinster was going to be a spinster no more, that she was finally going to get married and have a chance to have the dream come true for her. And I am actually glad for her. He's a very decent man, shares a lot of her values, and seems to be very accepting of her foibles. He has custody of his three children, he seems to be fond of Charli, and he seems to treat her well--I have not heard them argue in over a year. It has come to pass, and today is the day they are leaving for good.
I wish them well. And I doubt, honestly, that whoever is upstairs next will be, on balance, a better neighbor; there remained an underlying affection between Nancy and I that transcended petty annoyances that will not be part of the dynamic with the next one. Nancy will remain the owner of the home; she will just be an absentee landlord, and I am now sort of a property manager. It will be different, in many ways a positive one, and I certainly hope that many of the changes will be for the better. For both of us.
One of the things that we used to talk about a lot was how badly she felt used by our sort-of friend Stephanee. Nancy was just flabbergasted by what a selfish twit Stephanee can be at times, and more than a little hurt. Having also been through that wringer with Stephanee (who for many years was the one closest to me in clean time on the back side of me, with about a month less; our children were close, her man-cum-husband Drew was one of my good friends, and she and Shannon were close for years), I kept telling her what appeared to be the case actually was the case, and as time passed Nancy learned to back away and not get hurt. But one of the things I told her about, and that Nancy agreed was a travesty, was when Stephanee and Drew got married. I was not invited, and she made some lameass excuse about limited numbers of guests and how they had to not invite everyone they wanted to and blah blah blah. At first, I accepted that--until I found out who was actually invited, and it was very clear that the only ones invited were those who could make a substantial donation to the cause, because people like Enrique, who had seen Stephanee and Drew about twice in seven years, were at the reception while people like Shannon and I, who were at their house about twice a week but whose wallets weren't terribly full, were not. Nancy, who was invited because even then she was making a good living, promised that when the time came for her, that would not be the case.
So see you at the wedding, Nancy :)