Sunday, October 31, 2010

Even More Random Notes

1) Watched some college football yesterday. I've always kind of had a soft spot for the Oregon teams; are there any other major college programs whose nicknames are as harmless as Ducks and Beavers? But Oregon is very cool for several reasons. They wear a different outlandish uniform every week; last night's were all white, except for green wing impressions on the shoulders. They also score a ton of points every week; they are averaging over 50 per game. They have taken the hurry-up offense to its limits; they had a 9-play drive last night that took 2 minutes--in the first quarter. They are not afraid to take chances; they went for two after their first touchdown, and with 32 seconds left in the first half and the ball on their own 4, they threw for 50 yards on the first play instead of running out the clock. Their defense isn't quite as great as the offense, but it takes chances and tackles well. This is football the way it is supposed to be played, I feel; put the pedal down and do not let up on offense, and make the other offense work for its points. I love watching this team.
2) The local paper has a major article this morning on the commenters to its online edition. Several people have been banned, and the editor was decrying how low some of these people can sink. I'm not so shocked. I do not share most of my liberal-leaning friends' somewhat rosy view of human nature. I believe that people are naturally greedy and shallow; I believe a substantial number, perhaps even a slight majority, of white people are racist to a degree; and the one down side of the Internet is that it allows people easy anonymity to indulge their less civilized instincts. I think the paper could cut down most of the ugliness by requiring real names that must be verified by the paper before allowing access to the site. But if they did that, there would be about 20 people in the entire area that would bother doing it. And frankly, I wouldn't be one of them, not because I indulge in that sort of behavior, but because I don't really care that much.
3) It's Halloween today. For most of my life, today was the day that the clocks got turned back, which made sense because it would be dark earlier and trick or treating is a lot more fun for everyone involved when it's dark outside. But a couple of years, it was decided (in Congress, I presume) to move it back to the first Sunday in November, and so the first couple of hours of the festivities are going to take place in daylight. I suppose if I had a 3YO again, I wouldn't mind so much, but it sure doesn't feel like Halloween when you get a small mob at your door at 5 PM and the sun is still up.
4) A friend of mine from high school mentioned something during the week on my Facebook feed that led my writing about my high school track career, which led several of my current friends to tell me they never knew that I had a rather accomplished high school athletic career. For the record, yes, I do still hold a UE track record (with the three others on that relay team) that is now 30 years old and may never, given the state of the UE school district at this time and the direction it is headed, be broken. Unlike every other sport I played, I did not really enjoy track; I did it because I was good at it, and because making the baseball team at the time and place I was in school was a real bitch--UE could have had the two best baseball teams in the conference from 1979-81, and did in fact field the best two American Legion summer league teams. But I used to get sick before races, knowing how exhausted I was going to be after the 800 meter races, especially since in most meets from early in my junior year onward, I was running at least two races per meet. I remember the record setting day very well. I had taken the SAT that morning; a number of us juniors did not go up to Ithaca with the rest of the team that morning. I remember thinking that the Section 4 meet was putting a serious crimp in my social life. There was a huge party planned for that night at Pat Evans' house with a straight-from-the-tap beer drinking contest planned; not only was it common knowledge, but there had been some serious money wagered during the week on who was going to win (Off-Tap Betting, we were calling it, and had been passing around real OTB betting slips around the school for a week taking bets). I honestly could not wait to get the meet over with. And then, I remember there five of us 800 guys running for four spots for the state meet, running in the four relay positions, and the open 800 as well. The previous week had been the conference championship, and I had run in the open 800 and finished 5th with a pretty good time. In the Section 4 meet, Jim Palombaro was running in the open 800, and I had my customary leadoff spot in the relay again. I ran the race, and I remember thinking as I handed off that it had to be slow, because for the first time all year, I handed off behind--granted, it was only second place, but still, I was extremely competitive, and no one beat me. And after I caught my breath enough to ask Coach Oz what I ran, I almost fell down when he said 2:00.8, because that was the best time I had ever run up to that point. I remember Jim had run 2:02 something in the open 800, and Dave Koban ended up in the alternate spot for the state meet. (Gary Beddoe and Dave Lesko were always around and sometimes went under 2:00) despite running 2:03, which would win the open Sectional title more years than not now. Koban did win a consolation prize; he won the drinking contest that night at the party, about $80 if I remember right. But we ran 7:57 something for the relay; the next few UE teams in the early '80's approached but never bettered that mark, and then IBM pulled out of town and now UE can't get a relay team to get within ten seconds of it. ... that day was June 7, 1980, and remains one of the longest, most accomplished days of my life. And yes, pulling that party contest off, without rancor and with no alcohol poisonings or vomiting episodes, was as much of an accomplishment as getting 1380 on the SAT and helping set a sectional track record....the record stood as the sectional record for over 20 years. I remember reading the paper one June after I got clean, maybe 1999 or 2000, and reading the results of the sectional track meet. They list the record holders in parentheses before listing the results of the competition, and I was shocked to see our names still there; other than Tom Yelverton's pole-vaulting mark, ours was the oldest record by at least a decade. I think it was in 2003 that some team finally bested it, and even then only by a couple of tenths of a second, and I am pretty sure that I am going to be a part of a UE record book for as long as there is a UE.
5) This morning marks the rebirth of an important NA meeting, Sunday Steppin'. The meeting used to be at ACC, and many of us with substantial clean time have strong ties to that meeting--Kate, Kathie, Aldo, Kevin, and Vincent used to be home group members there, and Drew, Ray, and myself, among others, were there every week. It was, at ACC, one of the few kid-friendly meetings we had, and Sabrina spent most of her Sunday mornings from ages 2-6 there. They ran into some kind of problem with ACC (a Fairview Recovery Services facility having a problem with NA. Imagine that! But that's material for another post) and moved it to the VOA for a while, but that petered out (VOA is on Munsell Street, which is bad both because of the neighborhood and for there being no parking at all, and then when you factor in that most of the VOA residents are fresh out of jail, it was doomed to fail). But Heidi and Brian are starting it at the Urban League today, and I may just head over there before I go to pick up Sabrina. If done right, it is going to be a huge asset to the recovery community here. Sunday morning is the time much of the rest of the world goes to church, and NA can fill a church-type role for people in recovery looking to go in a spiritual direction, and so the fit is good, always has been. I really hope it catches on.
6) And lastly, the Rangers got through the first ten games of the season at 5-4-1, which, missing Gaborik, is pretty damn good. I am not surprised that Callahan is tied for second on the team in goals with 4. But tied with Brian Boyle? Although, to be fair to Boyle, everyone in the world who saw the team in training camp said Boyle was a different player this year--due to summer power-skating lessons, being more aggressive, and acting like his career was on the line. And if this is for real, you've got a 6-7 center that can kill penalties, score, and isn't any worse than the rest of the team (which is really awful) on faceoffs. He is physically similar to Mario Lemieux, even looks like him a bit, and if he can be a quarter of the player Super Mario was, it's like found money for the Rangers.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Grateful

Last night at my home group, we all celebrated my 12 years, which was very nice. Don made a very nice speech while presenting the medallion, and a few others said very nice things, as well, which is always good for the soul. And I got to talk for 15 minutes without guilt (5th Friday is home group speaker, and so my speaking fit in very well in that format).
It was also a group conscience night, which we have an hour before the meeting, and as such we had a lot of free time before the meeting. Kate and I were talking about kids, ours and others we know. She had Jaynee with her (who is the 4th or 5th grade now and attending, since Kate moved to the West Side earlier this year, Jefferson) and said MacKenzie is doing well at Binghamton. She said something to MacKenzie about my celebration, and asked if she knew who I was, and MacKenzie dismissively said that of course she knew who I was, that most Binghamton High School kids do. Which was very gratifying. John also mentioned when he talked about how many lives, how many young people, I touch positively through the work I do.. I guess I do make a difference, that I do matter. Not that I was lying awake at night thinking about it, but it's still nice to get confirmation.
John also mentioned something that Aldo has said in the past as well, about how, while I still exhibit an acerbic wit much of the time, that I don't use my ability with words to hurt people very much anymore. And I've been aware of that, too. Regular readers of this space know that I still possess the ability to verbally skewer someone if I want to--but I don't often want to anymore, that I realize that it does not make me feel better about myself to bring someone else down. And as Kate and Jesus mentioned last night, one of the best things we can do for our children is to set a good example, that we are role models. Sabrina does not exhibit this behavior, and Rachel does not either, though both certainly are capable of it; both seem to be those type of kids that bridge cliques, that have the respect and affection of most of the people they know. I think that is a direct reflection on at least some of the parental input they have gotten from my side. Kate also mentioned that I have had a substantial indirect effect on her life, more than being in the same home group and in interactions with each other, because of the presence and effect I have had in her "girls"" lives, her sponsees--Kathie, Nancy, and Kristen. That feeling is reciprocal, which I have talked about at Kate's celebrations in the past, and that, in fact, is a pretty fair demonstration of how the fellowship is supposed to work. Yes, there is a fair amount of one-on-one relationships, but we are a fellowship, and we can either negatively or positively affect the lot as a whole. We have ripple effects, and they overlap, and for the most part, we make a positive difference in our lives. I would not be living the life I lead without Kate, Kathie, and Nancy being big parts of it. For those not in NA, there might be an assumption that there has been sexual aspects to any or all of those relationships, but there has not been and will not be, and there does not have to be. We're all in this recovery thing--this life thing--together.
And I was surprised last night by the way some people talked about me, about how the respect that they have for me. Don tells me often that he admires how I have the self-confidence to state my opinions and feelings, even in professional arenas, and let the chips fall where they may. Part of it is having a working relationship with God; while I can't tell you that I don't care at all what other people think, I can tell you that being able to feel squared up with God is more important to me. But most of it is strictly integrity, having it and living by it. I can do and say what I do and say because integrity is my defining characteristic; like it or not, comfortable with it or not, what one sees with me is what one gets. It has been a conscious effort on my part since the day I got clean, and certainly in the time since I started working with Aldo in early 2000. I remember at my 5-year celebration, Anthony, who I was sponsoring at the time, saying to the crowd that "what you see with him is who he is," and I think that is the best testimonial anyone can receive. It's so much more freeing to live this way, and I found, much to my surprise, that even those who don't like you respect you (and many who do not practice or value integrity express it by steering very clear of me). And most surprising of all, especially after years of living this way, I have found that players, that people who do not have integrity, adjust to the way I am when dealing with me rather than, as might be expected, trying to take advantage of me. There have been some very unspiritual and slippery people (a couple of former people I worked with spring immediately to mind) who never played the games they did with other people with me; its almost like they are afraid to or that they figure I am immune to it.
was, whatever he may have been with others. And not piling on, not just stirring the pot when I have no real reason to, is something that seems like an obvious decision from the sideline, but one that is surprisingly difficult for most people to resist doing. It was for me, too, for the first 38 years or so of my life.
But it isn't anymore. And it's only one of the reasons that I am very grateful today for my life and who is in it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Review: CONSPIRATOR

Subtitled "Lenin in Exile," Conspirator is Helen Rappaport's engaging account of the seventeen years Vladimir Ilyich Lenin spent abroad in the years 1900-1917. I have a history degree and have had a decades-long interest in Russian and Soviet history, yet this book told me many things I did not know about Lenin, including the fact that he had a mistress; he likely died of syphilis; that he lived in Poland for a time; the "sealed train" that took him through Germany after the Revolution did not go straight through to Russia, but just got him to the Baltic Sea so he could sail to Sweden; that he almost was arrested upon arrival in Finland by the British, who had a presence at Swedish border crossings; and that Finland was rather autonomous during the czarist era, and the Russian secret police generally did not follow underground figures there. The book is very readable, and also points out the human side of living in exile--the homesickness, the penury, the suspicion aroused in the locals simply by being foreign anywhere.
The book also points out something that is very curious for people in my generation. Lenin was, until I was about 30 years old, universally regarded as a major figure in world history. He is certainly not now, as the Communist bloc recedes further into the background. It is the nature of a fluid and dynamic world to move in different directions, but it is simply amazing to me how someone so important in his time--well, at least the last seven years of his life--and who left such a large legacy for two generations is now well on his way to near-complete oblivion. I have no doubt that my daughters will have no more knowledge of Lenin than they do of some other supernovae of history like Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great--hugely important in their time, but whose long-term legacies atrophied within a century to little more than a blip in longer-term historical narratives.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Twelve Years Clean

Today marks another anniversary. Twelve years ago, life was almost indescribably bad, and what I remember most about it is not any event, but rather the pervasive feeling of hopelessness, like I was never going to get off the streets and that death was near and certain. I have felt a great deal of pain over the last twelve years, but I have never, even in some pretty dark moments, felt hopeless again. The differences between now and then are too many to list, but I will list a couple:
1) A concept of God that works and has meaning in my life. The religious concepts of God did not do it for me before recovery, and have not done it for me after my clean date, despite a few major efforts. The illogic of the theology is too difficult for me to accept, but even more so, I just have come to believe that the entire intellectual premise of Christianity and other faiths--that man needs to be atoned for with God--is not correct. If God made us, then God knows better than we do what our flaws are, and a loving, caring God is not going to demand a blood sacrifice in order to be reconciled to Him. The thunderclap concept, the revelation that suddenly blew all the smoke away, was realizing that the God-the-father idea was more accurate than almost of all its proponents realize--there are major limits to the ability to control and intervene in our children's lives, and that God is not, in fact, all-powerful. I really do not believe that God acts directly in our lives; what God does is provide opportunities for us to move in the direction that He would like us to move in, closer to Him. There is always a way to get closer to God, even when bad things happen; and if I look for it, it is revealed to me. And usually, it isn't that hard to find, if I can move past looking for what I am expecting or want to see.
2) The lessening and near-absence of fear in my life. The major revelation of the 4th and 5th Steps was how much of a role fear had played in my life. Almost everything bad that had happened to me, that I had done, could be traced back (and usually, it didn't take much uncovering) to something I was afraid of. The true benefit of a working relationship with God is that those fears no longer have power over me. I do not need to fear the lack of total control over events and other people; I have come to believe, and have years of experience now to buttress that belief, that if I act in a moral and principled manner, the results will take care of themselves. That they are often not what I expect or what I think I want doesn't matter to me anymore; I can honestly say that I have never, in twelve years, regretted a decision made on spiritual principle in the long run. Not once. In the early years, this was a difficult concept to grasp and apply, and there are many times where the benefit is not immediately apparent--but stepping on faith and seeing, as time passes, the results was mind-blowing and mind-freeing. There are still things to fear-- fear is a healthy, normal response when caught in a thunderstorm or when you lose your child in a crowd or when confronted by a loose pit bull. But fear of the unknown and fear of something happening that I will not like has largely ceased to be a motivating factor in my life. And in its absence, I was shocked to discover how much of my time and energy had gone into trying to alleviate those fears--pretty much all of it. It's a much fuller and more rewarding existence when fear is not my higher power.
3) The last major benefit has been the ability to accept others for who they are. I have more trouble still with this idea than the first two, but I am oceans removed from where I was twelve years ago with this. It is very rare when I cannot cut somebody who I am annoyed with or would not choose to spend my free time with some slack, and among people I actually know, I can only think of a few that I truly dislike. I am not close to a lot of people, but I do not have major problems with them, and certainly do not go out of my way to get into drama with them. I have my hands full living my own life; I certainly would hate to be judged on the basis of my worst moments by other people, and I try not to do so with others. The corollary has been that I get along with most people--again, not to the point where we are close, but there is respect. I am sure that there are some people out there who do not like me, but it's OK if they don't-- I am OK with me, and those that I am close to are fine with me, and my children love me. I am confident enough in my life and my value system that I do not change either based on the opinion of someone else, even if the other person is someone who has much to offer. Sometimes it happens; not everyone is going to like you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Thoughts on Kids and Parents

I got a call about a kid who had gotten into a physical altercation with her mother in the morning and was told by her stepfather that she was not welcome in the home that evening. Classic Cinderella effect, I thought as I drove to her school; by far the biggest single situation I deal with is teenage kid and stepparent can't get along.
Except when I arrived, it turns out the young lady was someone very familiar to me, as are her parents, and it goes a little deeper than a Cinderella effect. For one, nobody in this situation is a bad actor; both parents, although like the rest of us not without flaws, genuinely do the best they can, and the kid, who has had some problems before now, still is not a bad kid at all. Fortunately, this is not the first time there has been conflicts there and probably won't be the last; the stepfather has a temper, but generally reason returns and I am sure that by the end of the week, if not already, the kid will be back home and things more or less back to normal. Which is the preferred outcome, as far as I am concerned, and in any event I am way too familiar with this situation to work with them professionally.
But it did get me to thinking, all day, about choices we as parents and as adult human beings make. I have not been in a serious long-term relationship for over eight years now, and one reason why is that I see, every day, the damage that a bad choice in this area can do to kids and families. I have dated, not serially but enough so that I can say I have a reasonably large sampling of what's out there, and with a couple of exceptions, I haven't pursued the relationships because I could see that it would be extremely chaotic to have this individual as a part of my children's and mine's lives (there have been two that, nice as they were, didn't pass what Nancy calls the "mate test," based more on feeling than on anything tangible). But that's also because I took the lesson of Lila very much to heart. It's been nine years since the night of the clock broken over my head and her departure, and, devastating as the experience was for me emotionally, one of the major things I remember is the aftermath--a 2-3YO asking every damn day for almost a year whether Lila was coming home that day. Sabrina was young, and I don't think any lasting damage was done--she barely remembers Lila now--, but one reason I think that is the case is that it's the only time that it's happened (aside from the final break up with her mother, but that happened at 18 months old, and she certainly doesn't have any memory of that at all). But very few people make the choice I did.
The drive to mate, or I should say to have a mate, is overwhelming in human beings. I don't have a huge issue with the concept. What I do have an issue with is when I see adults persist in relationships that may or may not be healthy for the family unit as a whole for decidedly un-adult reasons. In many cases, it's physical attraction; I can think of at least three very intelligent, otherwise spiritually aware women in recovery who made relationship choices and commitments based on physical attraction. One was Nancy, who finally made a conscious choice about five years ago to stop doing so--and was able, as the result of the processes that decision started internally, to become attracted to, date, and now marry a man whom she would never given a second glance to six or ten years ago. Another has gotten better in this area over the years, but truthfully has only managed to break free of the three guys she has gotten involved with in the time she has been in recovery by the guys physically removing themselves from the area (in one case involuntarily). The third is still married to a guy who had few positives when she did so, other than a set of arms that could lift a Volkswagen without help; she often talked about his "potential", and in fact he has developed quite a bit over the time they've been married, but it has been a stormy and chaotic marriage, and the ones who have paid the biggest price are the kids in that house-- a 16YO and a now-7YO.

It matters, and it does have effects in the larger world, it absolutely does. The biggest effect of the sexual revolution has been the exponential increase of the ability of adults in engage in narcissistic self-centered behavior, to live their lives much more hedonisitically than any previous generations--and the effects couldn't be more clear, in virtually every area you can think of. But the most troubling, and the most germane to this little essay, has been the damage done to our children. We have subjected our kids to emotional stresses on a regular basis that they cannot handle because of our choices in relationships, and they act out--that's what kids do. But the consequences--drug abuse, pregnancies, crimes, pushing away family--last for decades, and have turned what was already a daunting task--growing up--into a gauntlet few if any can emerge healthy from. And we are heading into the third generation of this mindset, and it isn't a coincidence that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. We have millions of adults incapable of responding to life rationally; we have a culture of narcissism that is completely entrenched; we have a power structure that unabashedly is based on greed and exploitation; and we have a real inability as a society to face reality. All of these have always been present in some way or form, but they have never been the norm until the last 40-50 years.
And since there is no free lunch, we are paying the price. As individuals and as a society. And I fear that it is near irreversible.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Thug's Turn

Seven weeks into the school year, I can say truthfully that Sabrina has adjusted very well to middle school life. She has a set of good friends, has discovered (under control) boys, is doing reasonably well academically, and does not seem, after a couple of rocky periods in September, to be having major issues emotionally. I was a little concerned, especially with it being a new school, but I was pretty sure she was going to be all right; I know I've done a pretty good job parenting her, and she is inherently a kid that is self-confident enough that other kids find her a leader. Simply, she is more able than most 11YOs to be who she is and let the other kids decide where they fit in with her. I am not saying she is or is always going to be immune to peer pressure, but I truly feel that she has a pretty good moral compass for her age, and will not stray too far from it simply to "fit in." I could be wrong, but at present, I don't think so; there are no warning signs.
And I can see trouble brewing in several other kids we know. Her former best friend Hailey she has moved completely away from. Hailey has always had a bit of a mean streak, but it has shifted into overdrive this year, and Sabrina said Hailey was being mean and Sabrina told her off, whereupon Hailey, as she is wont to do, threatened on Facebook to fight Sabrina. Sabrina responded by deleting her, and hasn't thought twice about her since. Hailey is still on my friend list (she requested me two years ago) and I see nothing but trouble there. For one, she is always on Facebook, complaining about how bored she is (even as she said her grades at the interim report card weren't so good). She is clearly boy crazy. She seems to have forgotten how to spell, which cannot be conducive to academic achievement, either. In short, she is a 7th grader heading for problems, sooner rather than later. I think some of it was going to happen, anyway; she is in the middle of a large family, and has spent much of her formative years bouncing back and forth between her mother and grandmother. The big change in the last year has been that her father has been around; he got out of jail around the first of the year and has managed to stay out, but his value system is very street and very flawed, and Hailey has gotten much worse on his watch--like dad, she feels that hitting someone is the way to resolve issues and feelings one doesn't like, and that isn't going to work. It has been sad to see, because Hailey can be a good kid and was a big part of our lives for years. But I have also been encouraged in a way; Sabrina showed little hesitancy in jettisoning a kid that was taking a turn toward the unhealthy. As a parent, you always want to see your kid exercise good judgement.
The second kid who is having major problems is Sabrina's older half-brother. MOTY has been having serious issues with him for most of this calendar year; he has developed a fondness for weed and alcohol and, her feeble attempts at intervention aside, clearly continues to sink further into a morass. Yesterday I was at Binghamton High School, and discovered, when talking to someone in the guidance office, that he was on the suspended list, for five days. You don't end up on the suspended list for minor infractions. When I texted his mother, she only said, "long story" (although she had no problems telling me a longer story about why she wanted to borrow 60 dollars from me), and when Sabrina texted her brother after school, he claimed it was "because I wouldn't tell them my name." The only way that's going to get you five days is if you are doing something you should not be and you are confronted by a school official... for a long time, all of us who knew him were surprised Jacob was turning out as well as he was, considering his mother's inability to provide positive guidance and the lack of other influences in his life. That has gone south in the last year. She remains incapable of providing guidance, and some of the other forces at work (sketchy acquaintances, lack of a father figure at all, her expecting adult responsibilities out of him without reward or even praise) has proved to be a fertile soil for substance use. Given that Shannon was a serious pot smoker at his age, and that her home environment wasn't too dissimilar from what he is experiencing, I think a similar result is likely, too--a move to harder drugs at the end of high school. Only being a man, the chances for harsher treatment by the criminal justice system are much higher. I wouldn't know if I expect Jacob to be in jail in five years, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if it happens. He certainly isn't going to get positive attention at home anytime soon; between her struggle to remain afloat and the bundle of trouble that is the youngest son there, Shannon simply does not have the resources or ability to put the effort into fighting the rearguard actions necessary to give him a chance to turn it around. It's a shame, because like Hailey, he's really not a bad kid. But even decent kids make bad decisions and gather bad consequences when placed in toxic environments.
There isn't anything I can do for either of them, nor do I really want to; I have my hands full with my job and my own kids. At this point, all three of mine are still on the rails, and for that I am very grateful. And it has just proved to me that I have done the right thing by Sabrina in taking the lead role in her life for the last ten years. If she had spent most of her time at her mother's, in a North Side neighborhood, I am sure she would be headed for trouble, too. At this point, she is not, and there are no real warning signs, either. And I am grateful for that, and for finding the ability to seek and commit to a better way of parenting for the last decade or so.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: REVOLUTION IN THE BLEACHERS

Revolution in the Bleachers is Regan McMahon's patient and intensive study documenting how crazy the youth sports scene has gotten in the United States in the last twenty years, and what should be different about it. Most of the material covered is familiar-- crazy parents at games, kids overburdened, lack of unstructured play time--but I admit that there was much that was new to me. I had no idea that soccer was so pervasive among grade schoolers, that specialization into one sport players was taking place so early, and that chronic sports injuries were so common among teens and pre-teens.
And there were a couple of things that I noticed that I need to watch on my own. The rationale behind many of the more obsessive parents is "wanting scholarships" for kids to get into college--words that have come from my mouth, too. Sabrina is not overburdened on her sports stuff yet--so far its mainly softball, although she is interested in basketball, too. But I have told her that doing well in softball is a way to help with college costs when the time comes. I also noted the chapter on eating dinner together and how important it is. Since Sabrina was 2, we generally eat in the same vicinity, but we do not sit down and talk together. Most of it is a legacy of my own childhood; we ate every night together, and it was, more often than not, a trauma because of my father's unpredictability and habit of putting everyone down. I did not care for that, and still don't. But I do think that Sabrina is now 11, not 2, and we could be seeing a little change on that front.
The book ends with a call to action by concerned parents to start being different. But chances are those that need to read this the most won't--they'll be too busy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: PONZI SCHEMES, INVADERS FROM MARS, & MORE EXTRAORDIARY POPULAR DELUSIONS & THE MADNESS OF CROWDS

Joseph Bulgatz' Ponzi Schemes, Invaders From Mars, & More Extraoridary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds is a deliberate attempted followup to a classic work first written in the nineteenth century, with many more "modern" examples thrown in, up to the book's 1990 publication date. Some of the phenomena looked at--Ponzi's scheme in 1920, Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast--are very interesting to read of, and some-- on dowsing and perpetual motion machines-- are not. The central point is that people are subject to this sort of behavior and delusional behavior, always have been and always will be. It explains why propaganda works as well as it does, why atrocities occur, and how George W. Bush got a second term.
And I almost succeeded in writing a book review shorter than the title of this book.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In Gratitude to My First Sponsor

Last night was yet another good installment of the home group. We had 15 people there for a round robin meeting, and everyone got a chance to share. This timekeeper piece is starting to work very well; with the numbers and the format last night, I decided at the beginning of the meeting that 8 minutes was the magic number, and only three people approached it--Staten Island John shut himself down right at 8, some guy who sounds like a newcomer but put his hand up for a year or better was a few seconds short, and Kate went slightly over. There were a bunch of different topics, but I ended up saying a few thousand words on sponsorship, which to me is the most important part of recovering, as opposed to staying clean.
Not to rehash everything I said, but with me coming up on an anniversary, I do feel even more grateful than I normally do for both men who have sponsored me. Aldo would be a separate post, which I may do this week, but I hardly ever think about the first, Brian, who got me through the important time frame from six to fifteen months clean. At the time, I wasn't real impressed with the job he did, and yet as time goes by, the more I see that much more of Brian stayed with me than I ever thought was possible. The commitment to sponsorship; the idea of roadblocks to relapse (sponsor, home group, service, meetings, support group) worked as it is designed to when I needed it to; the nagging gadfly of some sort of service to the fellowship that has led to me viewing sponsoring someone as perhaps the most important element of a recovery program--these ideas were implanted and nurtured as seedlings by Brian. And while I have since moved well past his personal ideas about God, his incessant emphasis on God also planted a seed that eventually bore fruit. And he was perfect for someone like I was in the that first year-- not judgemental, willing to explore motivations, and willing to devote the time it took to helping someone on the verge of relapse work through a very dangerous day, as he did when I was nine months clean. There were and are things about Brian that I don't like, which contributed to my telling him I didn't want to work with him anymore, but even in that, I learned a lesson; he did not take it personally, only making sure that I was planning on working with someone else.
Brian is around again; he never left recovery, but did leave the area a couple of years ago to go to Florida, but came back over a year ago. His marriage has been tempestuous; he and Heidi separated for a couple of years before reuniting in Florida. Brian was responsible for their daughter Melissa for much of the elementary school years ("cared for" would be a stretch; Brian depended heavily on members of his family, and as a single father with the primary responsibility of a child the same age--Sabrina and Melissa are a few months apart, and are now friends after Melissa landed at Roosevelt for most of the fifth grade--I felt Brian spent way too much time doing Brian things. The man is obsessive even by addict standards, and his golf addiction borders on ridiculous for a 49YO man). Like many people in recovery in this area, he worked for Fairview; unlike virtually everyone else in NA, he stayed employed there a long time, over eight years, although he eventually found himself in the same position all NA people who work for Fairview find themselves in--bent over howling in pain, getting a pink slip shoved up his ass over something a non-addict or an AA attender would not be canned over. I don't see him much , if at all; he and Heidi stayed on the East Side and so Melissa goes to East, and Brian, unlike when he was here before, doesn't make my home group. But he still is here (it will be fifteen years clean for him in December), still involved in the program, still sponsoring and sponsored.
And I am grateful for him. He is one of the most important people that has helped me be where I am today; you can't get to twelve years without getting to one, and without Brian, I would not have gotten to one. So thank you, my (still) friend. And show up once in a while on Friday nights; we are starting to go out to eat afterwards again.

Friday, October 22, 2010

School Dance

Another sign that my little girl isn't so little anymore: tonight is her first school dance. At Roosevelt, we had the Father/Daughter Dance every year, but that isn't quite the same thing. This is with boys, and with chaperones, and the whole nine yards. She seems kind of excited about it, but then she's already involved, on some level, with this Connor boy that she has gone skating with and eaten dinner over at his house already. It isn't Connor that would worry me; it's the fact that boys change more than girls when they get older. But that's still years in the future. And today, she's going to be seriously tired by time 9 PM rolls around, because the orchestra is going to Skate Estate before the dance; she's going to spend hardly any time with her mother today.
But I've been thinking about her and her growing up, and the visitation as it now stands, for a few weeks. I still tend to obsess a bit when there is uncertainty involved, and I know that I am going to have a difficult time when she does start dating and going out as she gets older, because I will be one very nervous person about curfews. As it turns out, having her at her mother's house on Fridays and Saturdays will be, if it still holds, much better for me and for Sabrina; I won't be having a near-stroke every time she goes out, and she won't have Dad calling her at 12:01 freaking out because she's still two blocks from being home.So she can have a normal social life, and I can keep my sanity.
Sunday, I will have all three kids here during the afternoon again. I was at JC yesterday at lunch time, and I saw Rachel and Jessica briefly; they not only were hanging out together, but with Jess having dyed her hair dark, I can hardly tell them apart--Rachel is a little taller, but they do look very similar. They were pleasant and chatty for a couple of minutes, and then it was on to the cafeteria to find who I was looking for, but it was a nice little diversion. We are going to do our pumpkins Sunday, and put the finishing touches on our Halloween prep. This year is flying by.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review: RED NOVEMBER

Red November is not a novel, but it reads like one. Both author W. Craig Reed and his father spent much of their careers in the Cold War involved with the United States submarine fleet, and this book details several more or less unknown adventures and operations during the time period from the mid-1950's to the mid-1980's. The author managed to gain access to and interview four Soviet sub captains who commanded subs during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and they told him that four Soviet subs were loaded with nuclear missiles and three came very close--in one case just awaiting "Fire"-- to firing them. Other Cold War episodes--the years-long quest to be able to crack the Soviet communication codes, the damage done by our spies to our military, the tapping of the Soviet communications cables, the Pueblo-- are reviewed here in detail. But most illuminating is what it is like to be on a sub for months at a time; the carbon dioxide buildup when surfacing is not possible and the measures taken to combat it, the horrible smell of most subs that never comes clean from body odor and lack of ventilation, the danger of fire--and of smoke; the noise of diving to depth. This is just a fascinating read on all fronts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sick

I just emailed everyone I was supposed to go to a training with, and my supervisor as well, that I am not going to be in the office, nor go to the training, today. I have a sore throat and feel achy and stuffed up, and I think, given the circumstances, I'm better off staying home and sleeping in during the morning that travelling to Utica and getting everyone else sick, too. If not for the throat,  I would suspect just running out of gas, especially since everything I need for this grant is either in my hands or on its way today. Sometimes that happens--when the adreneline slows or stops after a prolonged busy period, it's like my body realizes how hard I've been going, and demands a turn in the garage.
Part of it is being 47 1/2 years old, too. There are parts of this body of mine that simply do not work as well anymore that no amount of rest will ever cure. My knees hurt more often than not, and my feet have hurt for years. I really should eat better than I do, and carrying around extra weight is starting to become burdensome. My back aches about two days a week anymore, and there isn't even a cure for that, from what I am told. I've accepted that I am physically breaking down, and have for a long time; I was a good athlete for a long time, but the downside to that is that you subject your body to stresses and wear and tear for far longer than most people do, with predictable results. I'm not complaining, beleive me, just being realistic.
And fortuantely, considering the life I have led, I do not have something chronic and nasty that I might easily have gotten--HIV, Hep C, Hep B. I've never been one to get sick very often, and can usually slog through even when I am, and I have often thought that I have one of the better immune systems out there, because all things considered, this could have went in different and worse directions than it has. But that, too, is not quite what it was at one time, and I get more days like this than I used to--not completely broken down, but reduced function. But I restore quickly, usually, and I hope that's the case today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Heedlessly and Needlessly Clueless

And no, I am not talking about national political trends, although that would fit. And I am not talking about last night's freak show gubernatorial debate. I am talking about something a little closer to home. When I got home yesterday, there was a post from a guy in our local recovery community about how he gets federal money to play games on the computer all day. I wrote him a private message telling him that in today's climate, with progressive elements struggling to keep programs alive and social spending threatened on every level, maybe he ought to think twice about posting something like that publicly. He wrote back stating that he is part of a work/study program and that it isn't his fault that people think what they think, and that I have an axe to grind.
Well, in some ways, I guess I do, because this guy, although earnest in many ways, I have found more annoying than not since he started coming to meetings three years ago. But this is exactly why I find him annoying; he is so self-centered and so unable to see the larger picture that he has no idea of how he is perceived by much of the rest of the world. But he is symptomatic of larger trends, too, the "not me" tendency that has been one of the most destructive legacies of the Reagan era. Let's review here: you've got a ne'er do well guy who landed in rehab in his early  30's after leading a wastrel's life. He has two sons that he has ended up with custody of because the mother is even less adult than he is. After months on straight-up welfare, he took advantage of a federal work/study program to go back to college, still no doubt receiving public assistance. He hooked up with a woman with weeks clean that has been in and out of recovery ever since; she doesn't work because of "mental illness" and now doesn't go to meetings because she has decided she is not an addict. She is on SSI, I believe, because she is forever on Facebook from morning till midnight, frequently complaining about boredom and playing every application Facebook has.
In other words, these people are totally supported by the public, although to be fair to the guy, there at least is a chance that it is temporary. Yet he cannot understand how the perception matters, that people that do not get public help and never have gotten public help might find the fact that he and his honey are exchanging cute little posts all day long and he is bragging about being on the computer and getting paid for it somewhat offensive. I didn't think it was possible to get one's head inserted that far into one's anus, but then you learn something new every day.
But it's even more annoying for those of us in recovery that have made the transition to functioning members of society, that have gone from being takers to giving back. The entire point of the exercise is get to that place. I understand that he is trying, which is why I've actually tried to be gentle with him. But the obligation to the larger community and to those that seek recovery after us should take precedence; at some point, if you are truly recovering, it ceases to be all about you all the time. He can feel however he wants, and justify what he does as passionately as he can, but when you do something like this in a public forum, you get held to a higher standard. That's the part he isn't getting, and that's the part that is bugging me the most.
Of course, this is the same guy who presented John with his medallion a couple of years ago and talked about himself for fifteen minutes, so I guess I should not be shocked that he is remarkably self-centered now. I am glad, frankly, he stopped coming to our home group, because more often than not he was ten minutes of wind every week. The shame of it is that he's actually not a bad guy; he loves his sons, he is trying, and he is one of the few people in memory that took the idea of NA service seriously and got involved, even if just in H&I to primarily talk about his own story. But it would be nice to see the lights come on with a regular switch, not a dimmer switch that is inching up a millimeter at a time.
Because make no mistake, fewer and fewer are going to get the opportunity that he is. The money isn't there, and the public will really isn't there. And by giving ammunition to the Paladino-types in the fashion that he did yesterday, he isn't helping. There has to be an understanding that when there are those looking for excuses to deny others help, you have to watch your step and how you present yourself. And there are a lot of people out there who would prefer to believe that recovery programs, work/study, SSI, and a dozen other programs are scams, that they give money to people whose only real issue is that they are too lazy to get and keep a job. I know that that isn't the case, but I'm not the one who has to be convinced. I also know that 40% of the people out there are going to believe this no matter one says or does, and that 40% of the people already understand the truth. It's the 20% that could go either way that we need to cultivate, that we need to be holding ourselves accountable to. I'm not sure I'm making the point very well, but when bedrock values are threatened, when really important matters are at stake, those of us on the progressive side can't afford to shoot ourselves in the foot.
No matter how justified we feel we may be. If that is an axe to grind, so be it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Review: JESUS WARS

Jesus Wars is Phillip Jenkins' look at the first three centuries of Christianity as the state religion in the Roman/Byzantine Empire, and how what is accepted belief today came to be accepted as church dogma. It is not a pretty story; there were several ecumenical councils, much political back-and-forth, and several riots along the way. What was most amazing is that the internecine warfare that characterized the Renaissance was nothing new. The rivalries among the patriarchates in the empire and the views that they held dominated both everyday life in the Empire--people passionately cared about seeming arcane questions as whether Jesus had one or two natures because salvation was taught to be attainable only for those of correct belief--but court policy as well. In the age of Attila and the barbarian invasions that eventually brought down the Western Roman Empire, it seems inconceivable that several emperors' first priority was settling doctrinal disputes. It was, though, and the reason was that people showed over and over again that they would, left to their own devices, fight each other on these sort of questions rather than the external threats.
There is a lesson for modern people, not necessarily that religion/culture concerns will come to dominate public discourse, at least in the United States, although it's hard not to look at questions like gay marriage/military status and wonder. It's rather that people's capacity to weed out competing points of view has been a universal impulse since time began, and that the reason the United States of America has been as much of a historic anomaly as it has is due to the fact that tolerance and openmindedness has been official policy (if not universally followed) for over two centuries. Simply put, the Bill of Rights is what has allowed, broadly, our society to be what it has been, and those that would take away those safeguards for any reason are not acting in our best interests. Demonizing Muslims or Catholics or non-believers is not going to lead to a good end, and there are hundreds of examples in history that show that. The main issue at stake in the Jesus Wars--defining the precise relationship between Jesus' human and divine natures--was eventually settled not so much by the ecumenical councils and ecclesiastical policies that followed in their wakes; it was settled by the fact that most of the areas of what we call the Byzantine Empire (they referred to themselves as Romans right down to the end in 1453) that did not believe in what eventually came to be referred to as the "right" way were conquered by, in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabs, whose Islamic Empire that followed in their wake allowed the various Christian minorities to practice how they wanted as long as they accepted Arab political control. It's easier to win an argument when you're the only one left in the room. And from this distance, it is very clear that one reason Egypt, Palestine, and Syria fell so easily to the Arabs was that they were not going to fight for an empire that was trying to enforce beliefs that most of the population did not subscribe to.
It's one of those things that's obvious, once someone else points it out. I had known for many years about the fractious doctrinal disputes of those years, and had always surmised that one reason that the current Orthodox practices are what they are is that some of the other churches (Coptic, Armenian, Nestorian, and a few others I can't remember but once know) had fallen under Muslim sway and had lost the ability to influence what happened in the church. It never occurred to me that they might have preferred Muslim rule to those of their religious compatriots because the Muslims let them observe as they wanted to without interference (other than increased taxation), and that one reason the Muslims won in the first place was that the will to fight them was not there. It was 800 years before the Muslims were able to fully conquer the fully motivated inhabitants of Anatolia and the Balkans, and they were vigorously trying to do so for much of that time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Odds and Ends

1) Nothing is different at my daughter's mother's house. Given that I was in Albany until after 4, Shannon had to pick up Sabrina from school. She needed directions to get to West (unfathomable for someone who has lived in Binghamton for 25 years), and then was her usual pleasant self when she got to her house, judging by what I could hear in the background when Sabrina called trying to arrange another Skate Estate outing for tonight. It fell through, and I have no doubt that Shannon is happy about that development. It seems to be escaping her that Sabrina is not a little kid anymore, that she has entered the age where social interactions outside of school are beginning to matter a great deal, and that spending Saturday night watching TV and mom smoke cigarettes isn't really her idea of a good time. Stay tuned on that one.
2) Can we just skip right to the summary justice part and execute every bank executive in the country? If there has ever been a more parasitic infection then the current financial services sector on American society, I'm not aware of it. These people are sociopathic assholes and need to start paying some serious consequences. The older I get, the more I can understand how cataclysms like 1789 in Paris and 1917 in Russia happened.
3) I did make my home group on the way home from Albany last night, and it was a pretty good meeting. Kate and Kathie shared some general ennui, and I realized when they were talking that as much as we all are happy for Nancy, the redux from weddings is often a sort of depression for those who attended who are not married or about to become so. I remember thinking after Scott Lyle's wedding in 1989, which was about the 5th wedding I had been one of the wedding party at, that it was never going to be my turn. I know Kathie especially feels this pretty keenly. It's actually worth exploring in detail another time, but the point is, this is four weeks in a row that my home group has been a real good meeting. I think I can definitely say that, for now, I'm back as a functional part of the fellowship.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's the Principle

About a month ago, I had to go to Binghamton High School to see a kid. I got there around noon, right after everyone had returned from lunch, so the guy was still in the booth on the Main Street side, and I decided to park in the metered spots in front of the school. I pulled into the last marked space, nearest Oak Street, put a quarter in the last meter, and went inside. I remember thinking that the meter was by the tail end of the car, but since it was the last painted spot, I thought, "Well, then the meters must be aligned with the back of the cars."
I came out 50 minutes later, and there was a ticket on the car. I was livid because I knew it had been less than an hour; the Traffic Nazi (the Binghamton meter cop is a serious prick, and has been on the job forever and three days; even the other cops hate him) had given me a ticket years ago, when our office was on Front Street, on a Friday afternoon before the meter had expired, when they used to be handwritten, and I thought he was playing games again. Until I actually looked at the ticket and saw it was for meter 36. The one I had put the quarter in was meter 35. I went back inside and told the school resource officer, a uniformed BPD officer who also happens to be the chief of police's wife, and she came outside and saw where I was parked and that the way the spots were painted. She radioed the Nazi and told him he had ticketed the wrong car. He radioed back that I should send a letter in with a not-guilty plea and "that should be the end of it." So when I got back to the office, that's what I did.
I was a little surprised when, two weeks later, I got a hearing notice in the mail. But I figured that I would have to put in an appearance and they would dismiss it. I couldn't have been more wrong. The Traffic Nazi is a jerk, but the hearing officer, one Officer Lescault, makes the Nazi look like a Teddy Bear. Lescault had a real shitty attitude from minute one. I told him what happened, we drew diagrams describing what had happened--and the son of a bitch told me that even though I had parked in the last designated spot, and put a quarter in the last meter there, I was still correctly ticketed because meters for spots are located at the front of the car. He actually got very huffy and belligerent, and I was about ready to blow up myself when he finally asked if I wanted a court appearance, in front of a city judge. I said I sure do.
I called my lawyer, who laughed but said of course he would accompany me, and I really hope the judge is Pelella, who, despite our minor falling out at the end of the softball season, I highly doubt is going to let this stand. My lawyer told me to take pictures of what it's like in front of the high school, which I will do this weekend. All the parking spots that are painted in have little bars extending in both directions at the corners of the spot--but this one does not; it is cornered like the corner of a box, clearly indicating that there is no spot adjacent. Not only that, but the "No Parking Here to Corner" sign is where the alleged metered spot is supposed to be. It's very confusing, and they probably ought to take the meter out.
And in other circumstances, I might have paid the ten bucks and been done with it. But not after my encounter with Lescault. He is a rotten little power-mad prick, whose attitude and intelligence make him more suited for a correctional officer's position than a cop. I almost said to him that he must be a hell of an cop, presiding over traffic hearings a good 20 years into his career, but held my tongue. It's an unusual last name, and I did, with some research, find out that he is the ex-husband of someone I know--someone that had to take a leave of absence when the separation happened and still is in counseling. So he brings his real personality to the job, apparently.
I'm not an inveterate cop-hater. Like any large group of people, personality types are distributed like a Bell Curve, and for the most part, I haven't had many issues with Binghamton's force, even during the crackhead years (of course, I am Caucasian, too, which around here does make a difference to some police officers). But it's guys like this that really give the department a black eye. There was no reason for him to be that confrontational; if he had made his point without being nasty about it, I might have just accepted the ticket and paid the ten bucks. But between the crappy attitude, the insistence that I should know the law and should have ignored what I was seeing in front of me, and his absolute refusal to acknowledge that I might have had reasons for doing what I did, I decided that I'm not going to give this shithead the satisfaction, nor was I going to give him the chance to find me guilty of anything, most especially contempt of him. But I can see why they've buried this guy on the second floor in a place where he can do no real harm. If he had to deal with the public out in public, he'd cause a riot.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hockey Season Arrives

Even I am tired of hearing myself about the crushing work burden I have. I was halfway home yesterday when I realized I had forgotten to do something, and decided it could wait till today. Well, that list got added to and added to and now is half a page long. At least I won't be looking for stuff to do.
But one good thing is that hockey season has arrived. The Rangers made some decent moves in the off-season, and have played two games, winning one and losing the other after losing a late lead (but am reliable assured that bad officiating was a contributing factor). But nonetheless, I am highly encouraged so far. There are a number of new faces that appear to be the real deal; rookie Derek Stepan scored a hat trick in Buffalo in the season opener, veteran Ruslan Fedatenko has some life left in him, and Derek Boogaard has played NHL caliber hockey, which was not a given that he would do. Several of the holdover younger guys have stepped it up--Dubinsky, Callahan, Del Zotto, Anisimov, Boyle. Avery has played fabulously.There were several additions by subtraction--Redden the most prominent, but also, at least temporarily, Drury and Prospal, because they are injured.
There are some worries. Lundquist has hardly looked like an All-Star in two games, and it's been become clear that the holdover defense guys--Staal, Girardi, Rozcival--are nothing more than average. Del Zotto has potential to be really good, but isn't yet. It's hard to win with a pedestrian defense corps. They've got ten goals in two games, none from Gaborik or Frolov, and those two guys have Christiansen centering them; why is a guy who was waived by two teams the number one center?
I would love to see what Anisimov could do with Gaborik on a regular basis. He is one of the few on the team that has a chance to be really good, but there's going to be limits on what the ceiling is if he doesn't have good linemates. I'll say this for Tortarella as a coach; he isn't afraid to take chances. I have a feeling we're going to find out soon.
Last year at this time, in the midst of the 7-1 start, I was feeling good about the team, and that turned out to be an illusion. This year, I'm not going to be so bold, but it just feels better this year. We'll know more in a couple of weeks. And if they are going to be mediocre, I'd rather see them lose 5-4 than 2-0; it's harder to score goals than to play defense.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Important Day

For a number of reasons. The Johnson City band won the Columbus Day Parade Tournament of Bands for about the sixth year in a row Monday. I was able to confirm with Rachel that they are coming this Sunday; it seems like forever since I've seen them.
And today is Picture Day at West Middle. Sabrina wants me to get her up at 6 so she can shower and get her hair just right, and I am actually quite proud of her drive and initiative. We've been struggling again over her sense of priorities, but yesterday was a really good day on that front, and I think she is starting to make a few connections between what I find acceptable and not. She seemed to have a lot more homework to do yesterday than she has been getting, and hopefully this will continue. I ended up buying a bigger picture package than I would have normally; her mother is not going to be able to afford to pitch in this year, so I got a few extra. And I still have not filed for child support from her; it is now mid-October, and I need to get moving on that.
After this week, it appears that, except for client work, I can catch a bit of a breather. I could sure use one; the beginning of school seems like it was eight months ago.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review: TOXIC TALK

Toxic Talk is liberal talk-show host Bill Press' look at the vast majority of the people who dominate his profession, the conservative radio talkers. Virtually everyone of note is covered in excruciating, sickening detail, and it's enough to make you want to throw up, reading what Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and countless (it seems) others spew out every day, every show. If anyone is wondering how the Tea Party got its hold, and who takes Teabaggers seriously, look no further than the ability of these people to make a (very good) living.
I used to wonder, when I was a kid, whether the population of the Soviet Union actually believed the nonsense that routinely filled their airwaves and their newspapers. Judging both by the number of Russians today who long for the old regime, it appears that many, perhaps a majority, actually did. And after years of listening to this shit fill our airwaves, it is appalling and sobering to realize that there is a large number of people in this country who believe this shit, as many as a third of all Americans lock, stock, and barrel, and another 10% who choose to because it serves their larger agenda. That only leaves 55% of the rest of us to keep us from apocalypse, and without a counter-propaganda operation in place--and there isn't one-- it's a doomed and losing effort to hold these forces back. You'd think after 30 years of Reaganomics, the truth about the Republican way would be obvious and it would be as intellectually bankrupt a philosophy as Marxism--but it isn't, and it's due in good part to this sort of poison dominating one of our major media sources, even more so than television.
It's been like watching someone you love get ghastly sick with cancer, and getting worse by the day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nancy's Wedding

Yesterday was Nancy and Mike's wedding. I've been happy for them pretty much since they started dating almost two years ago, and I even miss them, as I quickly discovered how much of a pain in the ass poor neighbors can be. Still, as the time approached, I admit to having thoughts like "I could be watching football" and "I wonder what asshole is going to be at my table." But they were fleeing thoughts, and as we settled into our seats at the church, I knew that none of that was going to come into play. It was a great 45-minute ceremony--long enough to mean something, short enough to keep everyone comfortable.
The reception was pretty good, too. While I wasn't terribly impressed with Terra Cotta' slowness in bringing our food to the table--the wedding party was long done eating before our food arrived--it was excellent when it arrived. Sabrina was about the only kid invited, and was hanging with Mike and Nancy's kids for much of the reception, dancing for an over an hour after the meal was done. My table had Drew and Stephanee (not a surprise) and Nell (which was; she came in from New York, and it was good to get caught up with her; it's hard to beleive it's been three years since she left the area), especially since I spent a good amount of time listening to 2.0 talk about Nell the other night.
It was good to get caught up with a lot of people last night. There were a number of people there from the fellowship that I don't care for, but the two I really would have a problem with being around were placed on the other side of the room. I spent some time talking with people I haven't seen in a long time, like Janet, Sue and Ogden, Saleem and Cheryl, Shalia (who really has put Wes behind her and looked a lot healthier and happier), Angel and Patti, and Leann. And there was a moment right out of a movie, when I was talking with Drew and Stephanee and all three of us realized we didn't remember what the reason was when we stopped getting along with each other. I do remember a little, but I also remember Shannon was somehow involved in the middle of it, and so, especially since they now live a block away, it seemed like a good time to bury the hatchet. Although I admit to a small twinge of satisfaction when they told me that Amanda, their 14YO, was not there because they were told no kids were allowed--which was the excuse they laid on everybody at their own reception several years ago, as they looked at Sabrina sitting there.
But everyone looked at Sabrina. Aside from Kathie, Kate, and Nancy, few there had really seen Sabrina in several years. Leann told me she hadn't seen Sabrina since I was with Lila, which would have meant she was 2 at the time. Even Eddie, who saw Sabrina all the time for the three years Nancy lived here but who hasn't seen Sabrina since April, said she's grown three inches this year, that he was shocked by what a difference six months can make. I accepted all the accolades that came my way; this was a crowd that knows that I have had the lion's share of raising her. Even Stephanee, who is still friendly with Shannon, seems to know and accept this.
And Sabrina's getting grown-up in more ways then one. She chose the middle of the reception to tell me the first mid-term marks had come out and "that I'm passing all of them." It turns out that they were better than that, but there was one mark that was low 80's simply because she put in a shoddy effort, and we had yet another reiteration of the "coasting" talk, that she is not going to be allowed to settle for less than her best effort. But I kept it under control, both there and after we got home, and now we get to look forward to the parade today, when the Gang of 3 will be attending. But I have to get her up soon because it's at 10, not 11 like I thought.
But I digress. The wedding was just really nice, and it was kind of a confirmation, oddly, that those of us in the recovery community have, for the most part, grown up. Almost everyone there had been around for many years, together; it was truly a gathering of old friends and acquaintances. For a fleeting moment, I had a Godfather flashback moment thing, picturing most of us there in about 1999--Nancy and Stephanee with hair down to their butts; Kathie rail-thin and uber-intense; Drew, me, Ogden, and Eddie all a lot less filled out then we are now, with no gray hair (my temples, I discovered in the pictures already published, are pretty silver these days); Katrina as a grade-schooler and Sabrina as a toddler. We've all grown together, building lives, raising children, making careers out of very humble beginnings, and in some cases like Angel's, coming down the exit ramp of life with a dignity never dreamed possible. Except for the fact that some tables had ginger ale instead of champagne, there was no real difference between her guests and Mike's guests last night, which is a powerful statement as to what can really happen when one takes recovery from addiction seriously.
and her views of my veracity to hell at this point in our lives. After she's in college and away from the house--I don't know. And I suspect that for many of us there last night. Sue, Stephanee, Harris, and Ogden have already gone that route, and I know Nancy, Kathie, Kate, and Larry, in addition to me, have certainly wrestled with the idea.
But last night, it was just nice to celebrate a wedding of two really good people. Without Nancy, I would not be able to live the life I lead today. I will always wish only the best for her.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Review: LET OUR FAME BE GREAT

As author Oliver Bullough notes a few pages into the book, Let Our Fame Be Great is a highly ironic title. It is taken from a North Caucasian indigenous poem about the peoples of the region--the mountain belt between the Black and Caspian Seas that form part of the border between Europe and Asa--and of course, there are few peoples on earth that less is known about. And it is a shame, because this is one of the more interesting, if depressing, books I have read in some time.
The region briefly has crossed the world's consciousness over the past decade because of Russia's conflicts in Chechnya and South Ossetia, but in general this is one of the world's more obscure regions, which has allowed Russia to get away with some of the more reprehensible policies in history. A couple of the assorted small nations here were wiped out, its members scattered across Europe and Asia. During World War II, Stalin and his henchmen managed to deport four entire populations to Kazakhstan because of suspected disloyalty. In the post-Gorbachev Russia, as mentioned, Russia has aggressively reasserted its primacy in the region.
And it is shocking and disturbing for an American to read. The casual brutality of how people treat each other in this part of the world leaps off the page, and many, far too many, individuals tell tales that turn the stomach. I sometimes complain about life here, and I certainly do not like our American Taliban and their allies in the government, but for God's sake, nothing like this chronic barbarism takes place here (well, at least for white people). I know from my experiences of active addiction that there is no more despairing (and dangerous) place for the human spirit to dwell than the hopeless, and where these peoples have found the will to go on is beyond me. Their traditional society is nothing like ours, and their land is not the most hospitable on earth and has bred a hardness that we do not see, except perhaps in fourth-generation residents of the American ghetto. But these peoples have been oppressed. Mass deportations, casual killings, the petty harassment that a highly bureaucratic society can mete out, and the serious harassment of a police state are not only part of history, but for many, current facts of life--yet they go on, and still, in the case of the Chechens, have not quite given up the fight, either, although as much as 20% of the population has fled to Europe in the last decade. It is a miserable tale of an-often miserable existence that covers no one in glory, except to marvel at the sheer tenacity of human beings' capacity to survive.
And it only refilled the reservoir of bile that I have long felt for Russians. Growing up in the United States, there was an antipathy toward the then-Soviets as a result of the global rivalry that has never quite gone dormant, but as I have grown, and learned and experienced more, I have come to believe that homo rus is one of the great afflictions of mankind, that there are few peoples that have contributed to general misery on earth as much as this rather large blot on human existence. From tsarist times through the Communist era to the present day resurgence of Russia, the simple crudity and barbarity of the Russian people--not just their leaders, but the population at large--has been consistently despicable. Russian pogroms in the nineteenth century were a forerunner of the Holocaust. Russia's territorial aggrandizement, which was the backstory to this book, was insatiable, and there is not a single subject population that has been treated well or assimilated easily or humanely. The bestial way that they treated each other during the Stalinist era has never been matched in human history; the gulags and the reign of terror in the 1930's were unprecedented and were only palely matched by imitators in China, Cambodia, and North Korea. When the killing finally stopped, they formed one of the most soul-deadening societies in the history of mankind, and exported it to their satellites as well, scarring generations so badly that the world is still picking up the pieces and dealing with the aftermath. While much of the world has not treated the earth well during the Industrial Age, only the Russians (and the peoples they dominated) have totally destroyed entire ecosystems--even the destruction of the Amazonian rain forest cannot compare to the disaster that is the dessication of the Aral Sea. After the fall of communism, the Russians' embrace of capitalism turned in a shockingly short time into a hijacking of the entire economy into a criminal enterprise-- even more so than the drug lords' influence over the governments of Latin America and the southern United States.  And most infuriating of all is the Russian population's inclination and insistence on bullshitting about it all. There is not a group of people in this world as deep in denial as this one--which is the major reason why this is also the most alcoholic nation on earth. There are few redeeming values about Russia and Russians. They are testimony to the depths to which human beings are capable of descending to, and unfortunately, since they have been prominent for hundreds of years, they do not seem to be going away. They are the new barbarian hordes, the agents of the apocalypse.
We should have nuked them when we had the chance.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Home Group

For the last couple of years, I've been cycling on the recovery process--going, then not going, then going, etc. A couple of weeks, I committed to being secretary of my home group for a while, after the home group voted to try to curtail overlong sharing in meetings. So far it's working out well for all parties involved. I feel more a part of the group and of the fellowship than I have in some time. I think word has gotten around that time limits are being enforced; we've only been drawing a dozen people or less the last few weeks, and as a result I haven't had to shut anyone down (last night Staten Island John went way over, but he came late and we had a lot of time to spare, so I let him go). And I'm starting to feel like I am a part of it all again. Last night, for the first time in ages, we went out after the meeting to break bread. It was only 2.0 (Steve G) and Chrissy and me, but it still was a nice little sojourn to the Red Oak, and we were bullshitting for a good 20 minutes after the meeting outside. Chrissy is an interesting woman--young, maybe 30 at most, and still in school, but is doing all the right things (Kathie as a sponsor, hangs with Heather on occasion, no obvious signs of unmanageability, seems to make a good number of meetings. Steve knows her because she was friends with Steve's daughter and used to live in Steve's building.) and has the look of someone that is going to be around for a while. We need people like that, and I think the women need them more than the men do. But it was a stutterstep towards reestablishing one of the things I miss the most: the old Friday night gatherings at (mostly) Foliage or the Chinese buffet, that served as a meeting of what passes for the NA intelligentsia. We used to regularly get the three Steves (including me), Aldo, Bill, Brian, John, Heather, Marlene, Richie A, Jeff, Rob, Paul, Sue, and Nell, with the occasional appearance of Kate and Kathie and very occasionally someone like Edwin. It's kind of sad to see how that has dwindled away. 3.0 has been gone for years (just ran into him at Price Chopper; he looks like he's doing well, but you can never tell); Aldo hardly ever comes any more and, after the stomach clamp surgery, doesn't eat out anymore anyway; Bill is in California; Brian went to Florida (although he is back); John's girlfriend moved in with him and he doesn't have free time like he used to; Heather doesn't come out with us anymore after she finally decided in her mind that I wasn't going to become Mormon; Marlene doesn't come to our meeting anymore; Richie A hasn't been around for years; Jeff doesn't come to the Friday meeting anymore since I stopped sponsoring him; Paul doesn't come to NA anymore; Sue decided, after a lot of thought, that she couldn't in good conscience keep coming because she really didn't believe alcohol was a drug; and Nell lives in New York City now. I now life goes on for all of us, but I really had no idea of how dispersed we had all become until I just wrote all that down. I guess the miracle is more that we were able to keep the core group together for almost three years.
But anyway, it was a pleasant time. As the years roll by, you appreciate some people more and more, and Steve is one of those. He has his flaws, but he is funny, has a solid recovery background, and is just good company for someone like me, who is more comfortable discussing the Cars than cars, actually watches a movie to see the story play out rather than the FX, and has at least a nodding acquaintance with things like history and Shakespeare. I never once think to myself when I am talking with him "God, I really need to be moving on here." There aren't too many people like that in my life, and I'm glad that, after a decade, we finally are starting to spend more time together.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Another Nice Time

Last night, after a bit of drama when I got home (the homeless kids just keep coming and coming), Sabrina went with her friends Emma and Connor to Skate Estate. I have often wondered, for 40 years, at how many times you see two girls and a boy hang out, and it seems to be happening again. I'm reasonably sure Sabrina and Connor are "smitten" with each other, but Emma hangs around both of them just like the older kids in this situation do. But they skated and played around for two hours, till the place closed, and Sabrina was just exhausted when we got home; she showered and went right to bed.
And we had a bit of a reminder of past life when we were there. Olivia was there with some of her extended family. Sabrina and Olivia were two of the four kids that were in Roosevelt from pre-K through 5th grade without interupption, and while they weren't always real tight, they were friends for the entire time. Olivia has had a bit of a chaotic life, and wasn't always my favorite kid because she's been an inveterate gossip and on occasion shit-stirrer since the 2nd grade, but I never disliked her, mainly because she never turned on Sabrina, as far as I knew, and she has always been unfailingly pleasant to me personally (that doesn't happen more than seems possible for little people dealing with big people). Olivia immediately started to talk about Hailey being mad at Sabrina (that little drama went down about three weeks ago; Sabrina, to her credit, didn't engage and, after a week passed, just deleted Hailey from her Facebook friends and has gotten on with her life), which I deflected simply by saying Sabrina just wasn't going to play that game, but otherwise she kind of joined the three of them and they had a lot of fun.
And I thought about the difference again between West/South and East/North Side kids in Binghamton. Olivia's mother has five kids by two men, neither of whom is around much. Olivia has been baby-sitting since she was 8, boy-crazy since the second grade. While she's a pretty good kid, there also is an edge there, too, that you just don't see in West Side kids in general. Hailey, too, as good a friend as she was to Sabrina for so long, is another from a fractured family (mom and dad are still together, but shouldn't be, as all of them have spent time in foster care, and they split time between the grandmother and the parents) with few positive role models. Hailey is on Facebook all the time; she even posted yesterday that her grades are terrible, in between the four posts about being bored, but there doesn't seem to be any inclination among adults there to rein it in. Connor, on the other hand, lives in a house with mom and dad and brother, with two cars and two dogs. Emma's mom is older and her dad is out of the country, which has led to many problems for Emma, but her mom is very involved in all aspects of Emma's life (she was on the same softball team as Sabrina for two years, which is where I got to know Dolores, her mother, quite well; Dolores now is an officer in the PTSA) and Emma is into orchestra and reading and Challenge and Odyssey of the Mind, just like Sabrina is. I can't help but think back to the winter last year, when I was waiting for dance class to end at Roosevelt with Olivia's mother and the subject of OM came up; Olivia's mom was very ticked that "Olivia's friends are involved in it and she isn't." OM isn't a club or even a like a softball team; it's something that requires some creativity and academic ability, but also an ability to work well with others. Olivia was and is not a slug academically, but she was two color levels behind everyone on the team's reading ability, and wasn't exactly renowned for her problem-solving ability in personal areas. There were 14 kids on two OM teams, out of the 180 or so spanning the highest three grades in elementary school. It was something based on merit, not popularity and not some nebulous level of "deserving" it. Olivia's mother during the softball all-star tournaments, too, made a big stink because Olivia wasn't playing enough for her liking, and actually made Olivia turn in her uniforrm at one point (although that decision was reversed, eventually). Olivia's not a bad player by any stretch, but she plays second base and catcher, and I saw East play several times, and the catcher playing ahead of her was a better catcher, and Hailey, possibly the best player in the league, was playing second base. I mean, I sympathized, because I wanted Sabrina to play all game every game, too, but I retain enough perspective to realize that Lily was a better catcher and hitter than Sabrina and that she was going to get the lion's share of innings back there (and she's also almost two years older than Sabrina; it's not a shock). Sabrina has two more years at this level; her time will come. But East Siders don't seem to get that there is a long term to consider; everything has to be right now.
It was good to see Olivia again, I should hasten to add. But I am glad that Sabrina is a different environment on an everyday basis.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Adolescence is Here

Sabrina is still three months from her 12th birthday, but it seems as though she has aged a decade since January. I've gone through a number of things this year that I somehow never really pictured coming this early--the onset of puberty, dealing with consequences related to school communication, online and cell billing issues. But I do not want her to stay a child for her entire life, as I keep reminding myself, and as milestones of a good nature get reached, I find myself taking pleasure in both the milestone and the way she is approaching them. For at least three weeks, it's been apparent that there is a boy that is very into Sabrina, and she is pretty into him. She had mentioned to me--and on Facebook--that she was going to meet his mother after school Thursday. Then yesterday, she mentioned to me that she had been invited to dinner there for today. I told her gently but firmly that I need more notice than that, but to make a long story short (I wrote a very long post that Google messed up the posting of--I hate when that happens), I drove her down to the boys house, met him and his mother, and she is now going to eat dinner there on Monday. Which is the right way to do things, and what I found most gratifying is the way she gave me zero attitude about doing the right thing. It makes me feel like all the work instilling a foundation of healthy values over the last decade has not been in vain. Granted, it's still very early in the process--she is, after all, just beginning the sixth grade. But I'd rather get off to a good start than a bad one.
There were also other encouraging signs. She got up early yesterday--and slid me a note saying she needed pads. So Dad drove down to Price Chopper and picked up a package of Kotex (flashing back to me and Ed Dutkowsky laughing our ass off at about age 12 when we saw David Tye's father in line at Fay's with a box of Kotex in his hand). Her mother tried to gum up the works again regarding abnormal visitation, but with Nancy's wedding being Sunday, it was rather easy to shoot that one down, and there is no way that Sabrina is going to sit at her house on Friday while Shannon works (there is no school tomorrow)--and in any event, Sabrina told me she has no desire whatsoever to spend more time over there than she currently does. I ended up agreeing to let Sabrina and a couple of friends go to Skate Estate tonight, and my mother is taking her shopping tomorrow for a dress for the wedding. I took her to the Mall last night to buy jeans; it took going to three stores to find two pair she liked, but it was surprisingly OK, even if I was the only man in both BonTon and Mandee (note to self: if you are taking your daughter to the mall, change out of sweatpants and flannel shirt before leaving the house next time).
It's going to be an adventure. But a good one.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Random Sports Notes

  • Baseball's playoffs start tonight. And I can tell you I am not paying the slightest bit of attention. The Red Sox are not in it, the Yankees are, and baseball has gotten to the point where it is all but unwatchable on television because of its slowness, a trend that is magnified threefold during the playoffs.
  • Continuing with a sports theme, the NFL headlines are filled with "Moss back to Vikings." I am torn here. On the one hand, Randy Moss is still the same asshole he always was. On the other, he can only help the current set of recievers, and when Rice comes back they will have the best four-reciever group in the game. However, what worries me is the mindset, both in the let's-win-now sense (this didn't work so well in 1989, guys) and the who's-in-charge sense? Adrian Peterson is coming off his best game in two years, and a week off might very well have helped some of the other walking wounded get back to a semblance of normal. But there is a very strong suspicion that the quarterback cannot be content letting Peterson be the main cog in the offense, not even for two weeks, and so they have to import a quick fix so that Favre can be in the spotlight again. If this is a factor, we are screwed. I was not a fan of getting Favre when it happened. Last season, I was holding my breath the entire year, and as soon as it was over I was desperately hoping that the people who mattered realized that beings from Mercury were more likely to land on Earth than a 33/7 TD/INT rate again this year. Sure enough, through 3 games, he has 6 picks, and adding Moss isn't going to change the fact that last year was the best shot, and they need to make more fundamental changes rather than tinker. But this is the Vikings, and that just isn't going to happen.
  • Hockey season starts Friday, and the Rangers play Saturday. I am cautiously optimistic about this season. For one, Drury (another week or so) and Prospal (maybe a long time) are hurt, giving the coach a change to add younger players to the roster without clashing with the GM. But I see a lot of players with decent upsides playing regularly, the few veteran additions (Fedetenko, Frolov, Biron) actually fit in and fill needs, and some of the albatrosses (Redden, Lisin, Drury for now) are gone. To me, the key players are going to be Stepan, Anisimov, and Frolov. You know Gaborik is going to score while he can play, and players like Callahan and Avery are decent in support roles. But Stepan actually can be really good, Anisimov can be as well and should do better with more ice time, and Frolov needs to be closer to 30 goals than 20 for the season to be a success. A few old and not-so-good pieces still need to be shed (Rozcival most prominent), and there is still the ridiculous Boogaard (you could get someone like McGratton or Yablonski for less than half the money and get the same effect) on the roster, but at least it seems like there is a directon again for the team. I know, I liked last year's team too in the beginning, but this time, it seems more grounded in reality. Let's put it this way; even if none of the changes work at all, this is still not an awful team, and chances are some of them will work out well. Of course, should Gaborik get hurt, all the above has been wasted words...
  • Syracuse is 3-1! Yay! Of course, their wins are against Akron, Colgate, and Maine... and they got killed by the one legitimate major conference team they played. The real season starts this week against South Florida. The Big East can be had this year by just about anyone-- but it isn't going to be Syracuse. Still, this is better than wondering whether it's going to be a ten-loss season.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Book Review: HOSTAGE NATION

The title of Hostage Nation does not refer to this country and the financial crisis, as apt as that would be. Instead, it is the work of Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce, in collaboration with Jorge Enrique Botero, and it is about a nasty conflict in a place much closer to home than the Asian wars we are fighting, in Colombia. The book is the story of the years-long captivity of dozens of people-- Colombian politicians, soldiers, and three American army-types--and the efforts to free them. But it is also the story of a massive failure of the "war of drugs;" if it is a war, and drugs are the enemy, then we have gotten our asses kicked, because we are further away from eradicating cocaine and heroin at the source than ever.
But most of all, to an American reader, this is a book that encapsulates everything that was and is wrong with the Bush Administration and the mindset of Corporate America. To give a few examples heartbreakingly detailed in the book:
1) Bush and his lackeys said, after the Americans were taken hostage in 2003, that United States policy is "no negotiations with terrorists." It was debatable if the insurgency in Colombia is a terrorist organization, but they couldn't even get their own policy correct: it is "no concessions with terrorists." The mule-headed insistence on no dialogue, even if it was pointed out to them that they were incorrect, contributed to the hostages spending five years in the jungle.
2) Typical of the Bush Administration's focus on rhetoric instead of action: a huge reward for information leading to the return of the hostages was well-publicized--and when the number given was called, there was no answer.
3) Because the men kidnapped were working for a "contractor" rather than the Army in an official capacity, their families were denied benefits when the men were captured. This is typical of the robber baron mentality that governs these people; billions are given in contracts to perform the service, and little of it gets to the men who actually do the work.
4) It is absolutely no surprise, but Bush Administration officials, in their budget narratives for funding the efforts, absolutely and baldy lied about the success of the effort to eradicate drug production in Colombia. They just made some shit up, without supporting evidence, and asked for billions more on the basis of the made-up numbers. And Congress approved it without questions.
5) After the hostages were released--as the result of a ruse devised and carried out by the Colombian military--the Bush Administration claimed they spent over $250 million trying to gain the hostages' release. According to anyone even remotely knowledgeable about the situation, the actual number was about $250 million less--close to zero.
6) After the hostages returned to the US, they gave effusive public praise to the US government--while being held in military hospitals for far longer than most returned hostages are. While nothing has been proved as to coercion, both the military and the Bush Administration have long records of twisting the truth and forcing people to say things that aren't true in situations like this.
It's enough to make one throw up. But as bad as they were and are, it still was very shattering to read of the plight of Colombia. The insurgency there has been going on for decades, and while recently the tide has turned in favor of the established order, the conflict still rages. There have been hostages taken by the guerrillas that have spent a decade in captivity, and the level of violence there--there is, as in much of Latin America, a right-wing paramilitary response equally if not more brutal than the leftist insurgency--is, at least at this point in time, unimaginable to Americans. The sheer prevalence of coca production is staggering, as is the level of corruption, which is the incubator of the violence. The American efforts at "stemming" the problem are not helping--a lot of money thrown at the problem that doesn't help and that pisses off a whole lot of the locals in the process. With the advent of Blackwater-type contracts, there is even less accountability than there once was, with predictable results. And most of all, the entrenchment of the oligarchic forces and the determination to hold on to their privileged position does not bode well either for the future of Colombia or for, as the income disparity in America grows to historic highs, this country, either. We have not seen paramilitary groups here yet--but it's a lot easier, in the wake of the Tea Party movement, to see them on the horizon than it used to be. And the day will come when they are a fact of life here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Busyness

It seems like it never ends. Yesterday was a Saturday, but I had to do my laundry, finish grocery shopping, clean my mother's eaves out, clean the guinea pig's cage, go to the office for two hours and work on the semi-annual report due in October, trim the rose bushes in the back yard (they were seriously over the fence again and it seems like I just did them, but I realize it was a month ago), clean the bedroom (it was getting pretty dusty in there). I sat down to read I my book at around 6 PM, after making dinner, and the next thing I know it was long past sunset.
Today is more of the same. Even after Rachel texted me last night to tell me they aren't coming today (Jessica is sick, and Rachel has a lot of homework, so they say; it will now be the 17th before I see them again), I still have to go to the office and write up a host home recertification, go to the bank to get some money out, buy some kid in Sabrina's class a birthday card, pick up Sabrina, go to the birthday party at Laurel, and give the guinea pig a haircut (it takes two of us, and it takes a while to do) and put up the Halloween decorations  when we get home. I can't imagine what it would be like if Rachel and Jess lived here; I don't think I'd ever slow down.
And the weeks fill up, too. There is the Superintendent's Day Conference on Friday, and Nancy is getting married next Sunday. Columbus Day approaches, and I have gone to the parade for many years, but with my 11YO acting 15 or older, who knows what's going to happen that day? There is winterizing the house to do, standard household upkeep, and the normal school routines... it's making my head spin.
It does beat the alterantives, though. The older I get, the more I have a hard time understanding how some of my compatriots can find time to go to 5 or 6 meetings a week, or seem to know all there is to know about a half-dozen TV shows, or even talk about how bored they are on occaison. I wish. It also hit me yesterday that our federal grant is a third of the way through now; it seems a lot less than a year ago that we got the miracle last-minute reprieve. For better or worse, it looks like this is going to be my lot in life for the next few years. I have some more cushion than I have had since the 1990's, but there are looming financial issues, as always, and new expenses looming as well (braces for Sabrina appear necessary, to take the most obvious). It will be difficult to make all this happen without dipping into the cushion. And the child support stuff isn't going away. But as I said, it definitely could be worse, and all things considered, I'd  rather my life was too full than too empty.