Monday, September 30, 2013

First Travel Team Tourney

A few thoughts from our initial foray into the world of travel team softball:
1) To start with, the drive down to New Jersey. There is no lonelier stretch of highway in the East than Interstate 88 most days and nights, but Interstate 380 through the Poconos in the middle of the night is a contender for the title. The entire way down was blessedly free of traffic in the dark, which was a good thing because there was enough road construction shut down for the weekend that driving on 81 South must be a pain in the ass during the daytime. There were several roads once off Interstate 80 in New Jersey that weren't great, and proved not to be on the way home, but on the whole, it took almost three hours on the dot to get where we going, and if we had been able to stay on 80 or even 287, we would have made it to New York City in the same amount of time. I'm old enough to remember when it took four hours or better regularly.
2) The quality of play. I have heard, for three years, that the quality of play at the travel team level is considerably higher than even the high school team level. I was skeptical. But yesterday, to be sure, the skepticism was unwarranted. Every team there but one played sound, smart softball, and the one that was questionable had a pitcher that was good enough that they are going to win most games, because hardly any balls get into play against that pitcher. And while Sabrina's team lost two of the three games they played, they, too, played smart, fundamentally sound ball. By the end of the last game, I knew that every ground ball that a fielder got to was going to be an out, that there wouldn't be stupid misplays on the bases, and that simple concepts like tagging the runner on a dropped third strike and covering bases on bunts could be taken for granted. I've waited seven years to see this type of competence.
3) Sabrina's performance. She belongs. She had only one hit in seven trips, but wasn't overmatched by anyone, even in the game with the really good pitcher (she struck out once, but managed a couple of loud fouls, and grounded out the other time against her). And while she is a smart baserunner and does reasonably well running, she still runs like a catcher, and it cost her a few times--out on a close play at first, and she just couldn't get to two tweeners when she was in right field in the last game. But I think she acquitted herself well in general, and more importantly, I think both her coaches and her teammates think so, too. The first game behind the plate, she was a bit rusty--a number of pitches ticked off her glove that she normally gets. But she caught most of the third game and did very well.
4) The other parents seem to be, with no obvious exceptions, good people. Even though we were the only family that arrived the day of the game, there was no question that we were accepted and welcome, and the day passed quickly and without any issues at all. One mother even lent me a canvas chair to sit in; I had forgotten mine broke at the end of the summer.
So all in all, it was a good trip. And I know we don't have to leave so early in two weeks, if we choose not to stay overnight before the game again; we can leave here probably at 4:15 or so and get there in plenty of time (the next tournament is in the same general area as this one). I'm glad I took a rental car; mine would not have done well with the bumpy state of 81, 380, and 80 (287 in New Jersey is in excellent shape, for some reason). Even the money wasn't crazy; I spent about sixty dollars on food and will end up spending about 50 in gas (my mother's contribution is paying for the rental). I've wasted more on less in my life, certainly.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Today's Regularly Schedule Blogging

...has been preempted by today's softball tournament and the transit issues accompanying it. We will resume on Monday, God willing and the creek don't rise.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Adventure Begins

There is nothing quite like the first time someone attends a meeting clean. The flicker of recognition as people one knows are recognized, and you realize that you are not the only one who has had to admit defeat against an adversary that can kill you, far from it in fact. The surge of adrenaline and courage as one hesitantly puts a hand in the air, then walks forward with increasingly confident steps to accept the white keytag. The ceasing of fidgeting for a few moments as the words of the person speaking at the moment pierce through the walls we have had up for so long, and we again realize that, far from being the only person in the world who has ever done what we consider to be irredeemably shameful things, we are surrounded by people who have done those things--and put them behind us and began the journey of recovery. The look of surprise and gratitude as a list of phone numbers is handed to us without our asking. The sense of wonder (in some of us) that we actually sat in one place for 90 minutes without having to have a cigarette. The dawning of a sense that maybe, just maybe, we have arrived in a place where we are understood and accepted, where we are not forever on the defensive.
I witnessed this first hand last night, as someone who I have grown very fond of made her way to the first NA meeting since being released from an institution. And after the meeting, the sense of pride and wonder was so manifest that she glowed for hours. And it was beautiful to see someone who was so down for so long start to feel good about herself again, to begin the journey back, to start to truly feel that she has not fallen into a black pit from which there is no returning. Of course, this is only the first tentative step on a journey that will, if all goes well, go on for a lifetime. She is young, a lot younger than I was when I got clean, and I fully realize that relapse is a part of most of our stories. But I stole glances at her last night as the speaker at the evening shared her story, and that person both got clean very young and has never relapsed--and one of her most pressing doubts was refuted within thirty minutes of coming in the door. It gave me a bit of a charge seeing her subtle but genuine identification with most of the story told--and she spoke of her determination to tell a similar story some day.
While the odds are against that happening, they are not impossible. And all any of us have ever done is stay clean one day at a time. Whether it is one day, or 73 days, or 5449 days, that's how all of us have done it, and will continue to do it. The last few days have seen the first halting steps toward clearing away the debris field of a life that imploded--but for the time being, there is no new rubble being added, and progress is being made. She will need help; she will support; she will need those that she has come to trust to remain trustworthy and patient, the latter a task that will prove formidable at times, but rewarding at others. And concurrent with the recovery is the development of, as Bob Dylan once sang, of a "book that no one could write." There are many such books in our circle, and while, like any good tale, the ending is far in the distance and impossible to discern, anything is still possible. And the way there promises to be full of unforgettable moments, of some heartbreaks but also some peaks of joy and emotion that seem to, in our darkest moments and our darkest places, happen to only other people, not us.
But it can and does happen to us if we stay on this journey. Just for yesterday, it worked. And just for today, it might work again.
The routine has been shaken and stirred, and my life may be very different in the days, weeks, perhaps even months and years to come. And while there is a certain trepidation involved, I also know the rewards are very great, potentially, as well. And just for today, I am willing to continue on this part of the journey. In recovery, growth does not take place in comfort zones.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Crazy Time of Year

I used to wonder why the federal budget year ran from October to September. Now that I have a job that is large part funded by federal money, it's not so much of a mystery anymore. Simply put, at the end of any fiscal year, there is an obligation to spend all the money that you are supposed to have spent for that year. For the last five years, this has been my responsibility, to make sure that as close to all of the money we were awarded as possible gets spent (there are some budget categories, like transportation, that are not really able to be totally accounted for, especially twelve months in advance, that there is no way to tell how much things like gas are going to cost for a year). And for the last five years, I, and other members of my command chain and our finance department, have been absolutely frazzled by the last working day in September (for some reason, federal grants run October 1 till September 29). Which is today.
And I'm in pretty good shape, all things considered, despite a whole bunch of other stuff going on in my life as well. The softball schedule has arrived, and we have to leave here at 3 in the morning Sunday to get where we are going, but that's the way it has to be. Someone important came back from the facility she was in yesterday, and already there's been some adjustments made; as much as I would like to be the center of the universe, I'm not, and my own family sure mattered to me when I was in similar circumstances all those years ago, so why would I want to deny someone else that experience? It's not like any of us are going anywhere; I didn't cease to be important at 7:00 PM yesterday.
I just hope that the way today began--I rolled over in my bed at 4 AM and the frame fell apart; it took me twenty minutes to take the bed apart, fix it back up, and get it back together, by which time I said "I'm awake; might as well get up"--is not a harbinger of how the day is going to go. I actually don't feel that agitated about it; I figure that I'm as armed for any goofy developments as I am going to be. My budget has been allocated, and I've approved all of the check requests; the ball is in Finance's hands. My daughter is a delight 99% of the time, and has been through a tough week for me again; she will do just fine this weekend. My Person of Interest is at a point where I've done what I can, and the next steps forward are up to her; I don't have any logical doubts, but there is always some emotional disquiet that I have to confront and defeat--and fortunately, I know what I have to do and have the tools to do it. It's just a matter of finding the willingness to use them.
And not for the first time, I'm feeling extremely grateful for having been exposed to and embracing a better way, after generally making a complete hash of the first 35 years of my life. I would much rather be dealing with some vaguely uncomfortable feelings at their roots than be dealing with a debris field of consequences that come from being unable to keep from acting on those uncomfortable feelings. There comes a time when, simply, you know better, and what you have to do for yourself is do better. No, I'm not out of the woods yet; there's still a lot of water to be waded through between now and Monday morning. But I feel surprisingly under control about it all.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

One Foot Nailed To The Floor

A few weeks ago, maybe a few months ago, I wrote a piece here about talking with someone I used to go out with in early recovery. She had been in recovery at that time, as well, but long ago relapsed, and has really never put together any clean time since. I've since seen and talked to her a couple of times, and I was vaguely encouraged when, a couple of weeks ago, she told me that she was going to some detox in Syracuse the following day, and I had not seen her after that day, so I was assuming that she had finally gotten herself into a program of some sort up that way.
I was wrong. Yesterday afternoon, I was coming back from lunch and saw her coming up the sidewalk. She didn't quite look like the World War Z extra that she did a few months ago, but it was clear that she was off and running again. Our paths intersected before I reached the door of my building, and she told me that when she had gotten to the detox, for some reason she had not gotten on Suboxone and she had left the facility and was up in Syracuse for a week and blah blah same old active addict rant.
As I mentioned in the first post, while I don't have any strong feelings for this woman any longer--it has been, after all, thirteen years-- I never want to see anyone stay in the grip of active addiction, and even less so people that I know and have cared about in the past. And as we were talking, I was thinking to myself about how full of denial and excuses she really is, and how it has been this way since she was in her mid-20's. There's always a reason why she needs to get high, and then there's always an excuse or four about why she can't put it down. Always. Some of the stuff I was hearing was pillow talk in 2000; I can't imagine going an entire third of my life knowing what some of the issues were around me and not doing anything about them. I understand that women often have issues that men really can't get in deep affinity with--but at the same time, I would think that sometime the desperation and misery would get great enough so that so other solution would present itself other than those that require you to degrade yourself even further on a daily basis. I get addiction--but I also have become profoundly grateful that my personal threshold of emotional pain turned out to be rather low. There's no way I could have stayed in active addiction for a quarter-century and counting; I would have either killed myself or faced the rigors of facing and dealing with my problems. And the latter has turned out to be not so bad as I feared it would be, and as a result, my life doesn't suck anymore. It isn't a chore just to keep breathing.
I didn't say a whole lot; I've said it all before, many times. And she said she's going back to the detox because this time some other doctor is going to be there, noise noise noise. I actually hope she does, but I'm not optimistic; there comes a point where you can only be pleasantly surprised, and she reached it many years ago with me. Although there was a tiny flicker in her eye when I mentioned that my daughter was going to be coming to the office after school ended, and she made a comment about one of my older daughters living with me now. I told her no, that it was Sabrina--the one who was a toddler when we were dating, and who now is a high school student. Yeah, where did your life go? I would think that the fact that her own daughter is now a year away from being able to vote would have been enough of a jolt for her, but I do know that being even peripherally involved with your own children doesn't give you the sense of the passage of time like seeing and hearing of other people's kids. The kids who were in first and second grade when I got to NA are now driving and in college and working at jobs; the kids I remember being born and learning to walk in meetings are in high school and middle school now. Life marches on for all of  us.
The difference between us is that I've been a participant in mine. I haven't been going in circles, with a syringe nailing one foot into the ground.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's Really Happening in Washington

If you have any illusions left that we live in an actual, functional democracy, you must not be looking at the news, from any source:
1) The farm bill that passed the House of Representatives cut food stamp assistance nearly 40%. This is not a luxury item, or something that affects people that have disposable income. It's FOOD, one of the three basic necessities of human life. If you're on food stamps, you are by definition not exactly making a killing in today's world. And our wonderful chamber of legislators that is supposed to be the direct representatives of the people of the United States is the one denying those that need help the most one of the basic necessities of life. Even more galling: one of the assholes that voted for this (from Texas; big surprise there, I'm sure) was caught grousing on camera that he makes "only" $172,000 a year.
2) Another dingbat from Texas, their junior senator, is the leader of the nutjob faction in Congress that thinks that is possible to "defund" Obamacare. Look, I'm not crazy about Obamacare, either (not for the same reasons, I'm sure; I don't think it goes far enough and it left enough of the existing debacle in place to ensure that it really be an improvement for anyone who already has insurance). But whatever it's faults, it does address a huge need: the fact that every sixth American does not have health insurance of any kind. After decades of wrangling, a law was duly passed that addressed, however imperfectly, this problem--and it is one, a major one. So what we are seeing with the Ted Cruz filibuster and gamesmanship over the federal budget is another clear instance of Republicans doing their damnedest to fuck ordinary citizens out of something very basic and necessary to existence.
3) The entire federal government may be closed for business next week, because of this kind of bullshit going on. There are too many positive aspects of the United States government that give us the quality of life that we have gotten used to living than I can list here--but these jackoffs are more than willing to let them go into abeyance. Even more disgusting, they themselves will continue to get paid while this impasse goes on; somehow they have been deemed "essential employees." Sigh.
4) And the debt ceiling is going to be needed to be raised in a short period of time, which will lead to more brinkmanship and nonsense and, no doubt, bad policies proposed and enacted.
And where is our President in all this? So far, he hasn't done anything particularly objectionable--but I am very wary of his tendency to compromise and seek common ground. You can't find common ground with people who are willing to deny people basic necessities of life. Especially when many of these same people are in favor of starting wars overseas, giving government subsidies to rich people and corporations, and flagrant hypocrisy regarding the religion they profess to believe in.
These people are the problem. Not immigrants, not Muslim terrorists, not free-loading welfare recipients, not lazy younger generation kids, not hippie liberals. These people are the problem. And the sad part is that many of them come from a part of the country that has always been willing to treat sections of its own populace abominably, that has demonstrated across generations that the core beliefs of democracy--and Christianity as defined by the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth--are not their beliefs.
If rollbacks and do-overs are on the table, I've got one I'd like to propose, too. Let it be 1866 again, and let's get Reconstruction right this time.
These people are at war--with most of us. They don't care about you. They really don't care if you have enough to eat, whether you stay healthy, whether you have a job, whether your current job is safe to work at, whether the food you eat is safe, whether you have water to drink, whether you or your children are sent overseas to fight in a war for a good reason. They...don' And the sooner you all face the stark reality of that, and start putting in office some people that do care, then maybe we can start to solve some of these issues, and stop with the bad theater. But it's not going to happen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On Top of Old Smoky

 The Smoky Mountains are named so because of the persistent cloud cover on the peaks, which means that the ideal that one sees in commercials and movies of a rugged backpacker standing on a summit looking at a vista taking in hundreds of miles of valley and plain does not happen in that particular range. And that's what I feel like this morning. Several different areas of my life are now in motion, and it's going to be a chore, and not an easy one, to keep everything together and manageable in the near future.
The first one happens today. It's about my job, and as such I really cannot say a whole lot about it, given that I prefer to stay employed and I agreed some time ago to not reference work matters in this space. All I will say is that our program is largely federally funded, and we have not proved immune to the budgetary issues now roiling the nation's capital. I have spent the last couple of weeks planning to make adjustments to the new realities, and today is the day that implementation of those adjustments begins. I like my job, but there are some days I can do without some of the aspects of it. This is one of those days.
Later today, my daughter starts a new sort-of job. Her JV coach has a daughter in high school that is a pretty good pitcher, apparently, and Sabrina is going to work out with her after school. Sabrina can use the catching practice, especially with her fall travel team tournaments coming up; her knees and legs have not only recovered from the spring and summer, but the little bit of catching she did in Sunday's practice made her sore and cranky yesterday. It also sets up an interesting dynamic as far as her scholastic softball career trajectory is concerned. She was an integral part of the JV team last year as an 8th-grader, and I know the JV coach would prefer that she be on that team this coming year--indeed, is probably counting on it, not only because she is very skilled but because she is a positive influence for any coach because she is so willing to work hard and be coached. But the travel team coach is the varsity coach, and the fact that she is now on the travel team indicates to me that he would like to see her on varsity as soon as possible--and two of the three graduating players played positions (first base and right field) that Sabrina is capable of playing quite well. If she proves she can hit top-notch pitching--and she has not been overmatched at the plate at any level of softball at any point in her life; she was a decent hitter even as a 9YO in City League--during the fall tournament season, I think he's going to pull her up to varsity next year, even though both catchers off last year's team are returning.
This weekend is the first New Jersey tournament. It is a one-day, Sunday-only tourney, and my financial circumstances dictate that we are leaving here in the wee hours of Sunday rather than stay overnight. I'm probably going to have to rent a car to get there, too, as my car is starting to show signs of wear and tear and I don't really trust it to go that far without getting some issues fixed, and I don't have time or money to do that for another few weeks. I can deal with the sixty or eighty dollars in gas, and the two or three meals, this weekend. But it is the start of the brave new world, and of course there's some nervousness on both our parts.
Later in the week, the nascent relationship I am in will change course, as well; I'm not going to go into details, but the dynamics are going to change drastically Thursday. I know what the long-term plan is, but it's going to take some time to make that arrangement happen, and for the short term--well, we're going to find out how compatible we are at close quarters real quickly. I would prefer that there be a less hectic weekend coming up, so that she and my daughter can establish a relationship under less pressure, but honestly, after exploring all the options, there is no other safe alternative--if people, places, and things do not change for people in early recovery, than people won't be in early recovery for long, and all of the other immediate options aren't changes of people, places, and things...I'm not overly worried; I do trust my judgment, and if I thought it was going to be unsafe or not likely to work, I wouldn't have made the commitments I have. But it is a step or two forward, and as such it is an unknown.
And from my daughter's point of view, it's even more foggy and murky than for mine. I don't know what happened at her mother's home last weekend, but Sabrina is adamant that she is not going to stay there Friday night. Part of me wants to tell her that this is going to be difficult enough to manage without yet another unexpected deviation from routine--and part of me is very concerned that she does not want to deal with MOTY for even one day. I sometimes tend to forget, given how good a kid she is, that Sabrina is still only 14 years old, given to all the teenage angst, doubt, fear, and jumbled emotions that any teenage girl goes through. She, too, is with a boy that she has liked for a long time but has only recently started dating, and if anything, that is adding yet another volatile element to an increasingly complex concoction in the cauldron (how's that for alliteration?). Part of me--the part that would like some adult leisure time with someone I haven't had adult leisure time with for a couple of months--wants to just tell her "You have to go to your mother's because you can't just not go", but the responsible part of me has to take into account that this is a development that needs to be taken very seriously. I have a few days to get a better clue of what has brought this on, and the suspect that the answer is not going to be one that I am going to find comforting.
And my own recovery infrastructure is going to change. I have not been real happy since I have been given the key to open up the Thursday meeting in Endicott, and this week, with the developments in train, I'm not going to be able to keep that commitment. I'm glad I know this three days in advance, because I have plenty of time to make alternate arrangements. But it merely emphasizes a direction I've been leaning in, anyway. Meetings have shelf lives, like much else in life, and while Endicott was an unquestioned positive for me for most of the last 30 months, it's starting not to be one. And with the new Saturday morning meeting underway, a viable alternative to it now is to hand for my recovery. Not only that, the meeting is about a mile from my house, and two of my best friends are the two people most responsible for starting and maintaining it--and I want to support them as much as possible. And with another regular feature of my recovery as it now stands under siege--softball taking up Sunday mornings is wreaking havoc with my sponsor meetings and the Sunday morning meeting--I need something close and convenient to maintain my own recovery health, especially since my Friday night home group remains too large and too full of people addicted to the sound of their own voice to be a major instrument of my own recovery process.
So as I stand on the crest of this mountain, I can't see a whole lot of the valley I am about to descend into. But I know it's time to move forward. Am I concerned? Of course. But I know that as long as I keep my self square with God--keeping principles foremost, keeping my motivations as selfless as possible, and not taking any shortcuts either morally or financially--I will make into and through that valley, and emerge on the other side.

Monday, September 23, 2013

In Pain

I've been dealing with various physical maladies for a long time. My feet hurt every day for at least two decades, until I finally had surgery on both big toes last year. While the results haven't been everything I had hoped for, the majority of the time, my feet do not hurt, and I have regained some flexibility of movement in the big toes, which quite honestly was what I wanted the most out of the surgery.
But that's hardly the only thing wrong with my body today. I have been prone to attacks of sciatica for years, and this latest bout has been the most debilitating yet. It's gotten to the point where I can't lay down for more than a few hours at a time, which means I am constantly tired, and it also means that I can't do much of anything that involves bending over, which is the biggest reason why my yard and garden have not been up to usual standard this year. I was just at the doctor last week, who advised the standard anti-inflammatory OTC medications in a concerted way to see if I get any relief. All that regimen has done has made me acutely aware of when the dosage wears off; I wake up at either 2 or 3:30, depending whether I take ibuprofen or Aleve, like clockwork like every morning with my left hip on fire.
As much as I'm not going to want to pay for it, I think physical therapy might be helpful. I also could stand to lose weight, but quite honestly, food is one of the last pleasures available to me, and two or three months of eating grass, Weight Watcher stuff, and portions that wouldn't fill a cat's stomach doesn't appeal to me. I do try to walk regularly during the day around the neighborhood, but the main result of that has turned out to be that I have become better acquainted with the city's population of using drug addicts and prostitutes, since the epicenter of such activity seems to be the big apartment house on the next block and there are nearly always some addicts hanging out on the concrete wall in front of the American Legion around the corner from my office.
And there is another ailment that is starting to get chronic. I have no idea how it started, but my left elbow/arm is being afflicted by a rather nasty case of tennis elbow. I will get two or three days where it is barely noticeable, and then I will grab something the wrong way and suddenly I'm so weak in the left arm I can't squeeze Play-Doh for several hours. And of course, every time I see my doctor, she nags me about getting the standard over-50 screens and tests, which I am resistant to because I am a long-time subscriber to the idea of "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." My prostate works fine, and so does my colon, and I'm not real eager to drop a couple of thousand dollars to confirm it. And this health insurance plan isn't helping with all this; for the first time in a few years, I have a significant deductible to meet. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not spending money I don't really have unless I have to. When procedures start being free, then maybe I'll take the time and effort to take what essentially are speculative measures.
I can still do most everything I want to do--in short bursts. I'm not going to be running any marathons; even when I was in high school and I was really good at it, I never enjoyed running like some of my friends did. I see some of my old friends on Facebook who are still competing in these 10K runs and such, and God bless them and all that, but that's not for me: as some baseball player said a long time ago, "I don't like to run because it makes me tired." I can run a softball practice, and I can handle most of the physical aspects of maintaining a house.
Except with this sciatic nerve bothering me more or less all day every day, that's not really true anymore. I have almost four weeks of time off banked, and I think I am going to take several hours of it this morning and go to the walk-in and see if I can, if nothing else, get a prescription pain reliever like diclofenac, which I have had in the past and which actually works reasonably well. I have nothing pressing going on at work today, and I have a long weekend ahead of me with the first out-of-town softball tournament on Sunday. I'd hate to be sitting in bleachers for hours on Sunday with a hip that hurts and a leg that feels like a stream of fire ants is trapped inside my skin.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tied to Anvils

I know I shouldn't be. But I continue to be amazed at how the thought processes of my fellow travelers on this planet sometimes express themselves. Human beings like to think of themselves as higher up the evolutionary scale than other animals--but I can't think of another animal or life form that will take self-destructive action time and again and justify it for such flimsy reasons. I've seen and heard a few examples in the last couple of days that really blow my mind, that have made me just shake my head and wonder "What the hell are you thinking?"
One was Friday afternoon. I went to the bank after I was done working, and when I was coming back up Jarvis Street I saw an acquaintance, a young woman who has been in and out of recovery (mostly in) for the last 18 months or so. She was walking on the sidewalk by the Wendy's parking lot, eyeing up the apartment buildings. I waved and pulled into the lot to chat with her, since I hadn't seen her in about two months. She told me she was looking for apartments, and I asked, since the last information I had regarding her was that she was at the halfway house, whether she had moved on from there. She had, and had been at the YWCA more recently, but had apparently been requested to leave. My first thought was that she had relapsed, but she matter-of-factly said no, she had not; what had happened was that a couple of other residents had been smoking cigarettes in their rooms and she had shared one with them, which is against the regulations there--and she wouldn't tell staff who had given her the drag, even though she could have avoided expulsion if she had done so. "So you're telling me you're now homeless because you wouldn't give them up?," I said to her, aghast. "You do realize that they're not homeless right now, and you are?" She didn't have much to offer in way of rebuttal...look, in the type of environment I grew up in, I understand the thought process behind not snitching. But there is a certain logic to it, in that those you are refusing to give up are going to give you something in return, whether it be something tangible or whether they simply do not beat the crap out of you or kill you. But in a situation like this? The people she was protecting are in the same general straits she is in. They got away with their flouting of the rules, and she is now looking desperately for another place to live without any resources that one would normally associate with being able to hold down an apartment. It's a sad case when a self-destructive, dubious value like "I don't give people up to authority" occupies such a place in one's moral hierarchy. Yeah, you didn't give them up--and you're about two days away from hawking your ass on the street again as a result, while those you didn't give up still have a place to live and aren't lifting a finger--aren't capable of lifting a finger--to help you even a little bit. Unbelievable.
It bothers me that people will tie themselves to values that damage themselves and cause significant damage to others. These "values" are the true disease of addiction for them; none of them have used drugs regularly for months or even years. And these "values" are the ball and chain that keep their lives unmanageable, to use recovery lingo. And until those values change, nothing else is going to.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


I've been very open and somewhat vocal about the financial pressure I've been under recently. Not in the sense that I'm falling behind on my bills or that I am facing foreclosure or we're going hungry or anything deadly serious, but rather in the sense that any real disposable income, any luxury funding that used to a significant part of a middle-class existence, has been hard to come by. This came to a head in recent weeks with Sabrina's making the softball travel team, which is going to be a significant added expense to an already-strained budget. It actually got to the point where I simply could not make the existing numbers work and was ready to pull the plug.
But if there is one thing I have learned over the time I have been clean, it is that if one plows ahead and does the right things--if one doesn't take ethical or moral shortcuts and makes decisions based, as far as we can discern, on spiritual principles--then God, or whatever occupies a Higher Power's role in one's life, provides a solution. The last time I posted about this, a couple of weeks ago, I heard that night online from a friend I hadn't heard from in months, who suggested a fundraising Internet page. I was dubious, but figured it couldn't hurt, and after wrangling with the best approach to take, decided to be straightforward as to the purpose. And the response has been amazing. I set a goal that would ensure being able to play at least through the fall and winter, and while the goal wasn't quite reached, it came close enough so that the larger goal--staying on the team--has been accomplished. The principles involved were honesty, humility, perseverance, and patience.
Honesty came into play by not trying to manipulate the outcome. I didn't engage in illegal behavior to try to come up with money, nor did I engage in sketchy behavior, such as gambling, to try to come up with the money. I remember my sponsor telling me years ago that "God's will is not for you to solve your financial problems by winning an illegal gambling pool," and the general point is extendable to every area of financial responsibility. I don't even buy lottery tickets; if my complaint is that my money isn't going far enough, then playing games of (slim and no) chance of winning is not a solution to that problem.
Humility came into play by asking for help. I posted on Facebook about how lousy I felt about not being able to pay for something so meaningful to my daughter--and within an hour, someone had messaged me offering a substantial amount of help, a guy who has faced a lot of the same challenges as a single father in the last few years. As I mentioned,  I was skeptical about using the fundraising page, but as it turned out, there were a lot of people out there willing to contribute on behalf of my daughter. I don't get along with my sister very well, but my daughter expressed an interest in asking her for help, and I told her to go ahead and ask--and my sister responded (more for Sabrina's sake than mine, I'm sure, but I'm grateful nonetheless). Pride is something that I had an overabundance of before coming into recovery, and still struggle with more than I would like to admit--but when I move past it and ask for help when I need it, it never fails to be provided. Pride is not necessarily a defect of character--but it is when it serves to build walls and barriers that box me into situations I cannot handle by myself. This particular situation was not life-and-death like many cases when pride is an issue--but my 14YO daughter sure was glad I was able to overcome it.
Perseverance came into play by not giving up. It is a hallmark of the disease of addiction that when one doesn't get what they want instantly, or pretty damn quickly, the pursuit of a goal is abandoned. Perseverance is often nothing more than plugging away, continuing to work toward an established outcome even if it seems to be taking longer than it should. This has actually been one of my better character assets for a long time--I have never given up easily when I wanted something or wanted to accomplish something, and that has served me well as my values have changed over the years, too. There is another aspect to the financial situation that has been evolving that I can't really discuss in this forum because it has to do with my job situation--but I can say that I did not give up when some major changes became imminent there, either, and as a result some relief and solutions are on the horizon that did not seem possible even a week ago. That aspect also is more proof of how God works in the lives of those who seek Him and His guidance as well--what was a bad development on the surface has turned out, because everyone involved is acting in good faith and trying to do the right thing, to not only be manageable, but a source of unexpected opportunity. I will share more when I can on this, but suffice it to say that a solution to the core problem is going to be partially alleviated in weeks to come.
And patience has come into play by simply waiting on events. I didn't chuck the website idea because the entire amount wasn't raised in six hours. I didn't tell the coach that she wouldn't be able to play because I couldn't afford it at first glance. I didn't tell my family off because they didn't immediately ride to the rescue with open checkbooks. I didn't panic, didn't lose my mind, didn't act impulsively--and solutions presented themselves. Another thing I was told and have taken to heart that I first heard in early recovery was "in God's time, not mine," and that maxim has turned out to be more accurate and beneficial than I ever would have dreamed possible. It's even more so when I consider that for 35 years before coming into recovery, I was totally indoctrinated with the idea that "successful" people "make things happen," that it was a mark of effectiveness and ability and even morality to impose your will on events and force other people to react to you and what you are doing. It took a long time before I came to accept the idea that this mindset had been a large part of my problems, and even longer before I became truly comfortable with being patient and waiting on events to see what course of action to take--to gain knowledge of God's will, to use program lingo, and the ability to carry it out.
It has gotten easier to do over the years, largely because it has turned out to work, dozens of times, far too many times to list here. This is just the latest example, the latest manifestation of proof that this way of life, of making spiritual principles the basis of the decisions I make, is the way to leading a life that has meaning and purpose. And I don't have to be all showy and preachy about how God is great all the time and has this Master Plan for everyone; I've become pretty convinced that there is no Master Plan. But what God does do for me and those around me that are also seeking His will and the power to carry it out is provide opportunities for Him to work His will. My belief is that God's will is manifested to us through the application of spiritual principles in our lives, and if we do our part by applying said principles, it opens the door for Him to act on our behalf.
We're not all the way through this journey, not by a long shot--not only in the softball/finance matter, but in our lives in general. I could stop acting on principles, lose patience or mix unspiritual motivations into the decision-making process, and it will stop working out so well. Like everything else in this way of life, it's one day at at time, sometimes one moment at a time. As I first heard with a few days clean, nearly fifteen years ago, "just do the next right thing." I'm still doing that, many thousands of next right things later, and the results--the lives that I, my daughters, and my friends and acquaintances lead today--are the proof that this way or life works.
And almost incidentally, the problem that led me to try this way of life--addiction to drugs--has, at least for one day and most of the last 5442 days of my life, vanished. And for someone who literally could not think of not using drugs for even ten minutes of one day when I got here in 1998--well, what more proof do you need?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why Do-Gooders Get Grumpy

I was at one of the meetings that I usually make last night, and one of the other people there, someone who is a participant in the local Drug Court, was there. He was talking about a couple of friends of his that have made to the last phase, but who are "getting dicked around" and may not be cleared for graduation from the program next week, a development he clearly regarded as some sort of injustice. A few sentences later, the reason for the "dicking around" came out: they're not only not making the requisite number of meetings (three) per week that participants in Drug Court are required to make as part of the contract they sign to be allowed to participate in the program, but they are quite obviously lying about not only how far along they have gotten in the Twelve-Step process with a sponsor, but even about having a sponsor. And then he topped it off by complaining, "Drug Court is supposed to be a year program, and they've been in it for fourteen months already!"
And it was all I could do to wait my turn in the round-robin before speaking, because this attitude and this mindset drives me up a wall. I ran into often when I worked for the halfway house all those years ago; I hear it regularly from people who are in various degrees of engagement with the Department of Social Services; and I certainly run into it all the time from MOTY and others  who share her outlook on life. It's the attitude of people with the foresight of worms, of people whose word is as solid as ice on a summer day, of people who would never dream of holding themselves to standards that they hold everyone else to.
To review: when you sign a contact to be a part of Drug Court, you agree to abide by all the conditions listed in that contract in exchange for being released from incarceration and for, usually, a reduction or elimination of some of the criminal charges currently on your head. That contract doesn't have an expiration date, doesn't have a "unilateral modification" clause, doesn't give you the right to ignore or change parts of it that you decide, once you've got a few months away from wearing orange and standing for the count three times a day, that you'd rather not do regularly anymore. There are two reasons that these guys are getting "dicked around": 1) They're no longer living up to the terms of the contract that allowed them to be out in the community in exchange for not being in jail any longer, and 2) they're lying about it and expecting to get away with it. Quite frankly, instead of complaining about being "dicked around", they ought to be on their knees begging not to be sent back to jail. And the part about being angry about "well, it was supposed to be twelve months" really got to me. I guess the word of the Drug Court people is carved into stone and must be adhered to at all costs, but your word, your part in this agreement, is flexible and doesn't have to be followed if you don't feel like it anymore, without consequence? If you had done everything you were supposed to do, and were continuing to do the things that you were supposed to do up until the present, your status for graduation wouldn't be in doubt. You wouldn't be getting "dicked around."
But very few people who espouse such sentiments ever see it that way. I remember a guy in my outpatient group back in 1999 that had the same probation officer that I did. I thought, and think, that I had a really good PO; I got along great with him, and he never gave me a hard time about anything (as a matter of fact, I still see him occasionally in the course of my job, as he has risen near the top of the Probation Department and we see each other at trainings and seminars). And he was quite clear as to the reason why from the second month I had to report to him; because I was doing what I was supposed to do, committed to changing my life around, and taking responsibility for what I had done but more importantly what I was doing. The other guy bitched every single session about what a jerk his PO was--and also was lying about going to meetings, about some of his other behaviors, and in general acted like he had done nothing at all to deserve being on probation and in treatment. And then one week, he started off the session by announcing that he was facing violation of probation because "they found cocaine in his urine" and that his PO was "being a dick about it". After weeks of this nonsense, I challenged him about it, saying "Found coke in your urine? Are you telling us you didn't put it there?" He admitted he had used, and I tore him a new one, not only saying he deserved to get locked up again but he had spent several months taking a spot in the program of someone who really wanted to be there but couldn't get in, and that he was a piece of shit because he had had no intention of changing but was there merely to try to weasel out of consequences. And I still feel that way today, even if I would express myself a little more diplomatically in a group setting now. I'm feeling that a little more keenly now because I know someone who desperately would like to be in Drug Court and can't get a spot in it. But the basic point hasn't changed--can you at least have enough integrity to not take a place in a program, if you have no intention of following that program? There are plenty of people out there that would follow that program's guidelines to the best of their ability, and they languish in jail because you're trying to weasel out of the consequences of what you did.
And you hear variations on this theme all the time. "You made me get high;" I suppose that the person handcuffed you to a chair, obtained a stem and the drug, stuck it in your mouth and lit it so that you had no choice in the matter. "Social Services won't give me my kid back;" yeah, you said you weren't going to get high anymore, or that you were going to show the abusive boyfriend the door and not take him back, and you lied and got caught lying about it. What the hell did you think was going to happen? "You're a jerk because you're taking me back to Support Court." Well, you agreed to pay me this much money a week/month, and you're not doing it. Not only that, but you don't even have the grace and gumption to give a coherent explanation about it. I guess I'm just supposed to say, "oh, well, them's the breaks."
And the sad part is, even though few if any of these jackasses will ever realize it, that they get caught breaks, massive breaks, all the time. DSS and Drug Court and Probation and Support Court and facility personnel give people a very long leash; it takes repeated flouting of agreements made before the ultimate sanction/consequence is imposed. Try that crap at a job, or with a credit card company or Time Warner, or with a cop on the beat/street and see how far it gets you.
But I'm sure you think they've got it in for you, too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The View From a Better Place

Time heals all wounds, and time also wounds all heels. I had an interesting conversation this week that brought those old maxims to mind. As I mention frequently, my office is on the periphery of a neighborhood that is home base to drug activity, and as such there are a fair number of using addicts around at any given time. Without getting into too much detail, I was approached by someone I know the other day who claims she has had enough of that life and is looking for some help to get away from it. This person told me, in the course of a 30-minute conversation, that she had seen and spoken to another person in recovery that day--someone that I was deeply involved with during the fall and winter last year. And that my name, and my time with that other person, had come up.
I almost told her I didn't want to know what she had to say. It's been six months since it became clear that the end was nigh, and while it took more than I really wished it would have to move on, I have definitely moved on, and the other party has stayed with the guy she got involved with at that time ever since. Other than the occasional "Hi, how are you?" at a meeting, I really haven't spoken with her in months, and haven't spoken with her at all about how whatever-it-was-we-had ended, then or now, and not by my choice. So curiosity got the best of me (not that there was going to be any way to shut down the talker; she was a little drunk and manic and wasn't about to be shushed); I heard her out.
I don't want to get into too much detail about what was said. But it did point up two things to me. One is that any relationship has expectations attached, and I realize that expectations are dangerous and that often they are set too high. But things like fidelity, honesty, and trust are expectations that are, in my view, legitimate, and I am not going to feel bad for placing them on someone who is willing to reap other benefits of a relationship. If such basics are such a burden to meet...well, good luck with finding someone who's OK with lacking those things in a relationship. And the second is that for some people, manipulation and fundamental lack of integrity are long-standing issues of character, the core that runs deep, the exact nature of the disease. I found it interesting that apparently she had much to say about me when she literally has not said two sentences to me since March--and the main cause of my distress at the time, and for some time afterward, was the complete shutting down of communication after months of communicating constantly. And what was communicated to the third party this week was, at best, self-serving, and in my view a complete abdication of her responsibility and part in what happened. And not for the first time, I silently noted that all the "expectations" that were apparently too much to bear when dealing with me, she has had no problem meeting in her current situation, because the guy she is now with--now living with--has them pitched to a higher level than I ever would dream of asking of anyone. And her telling the third party that she isn't real happy in that current situation, and saying that she still was interested in me, knowing that this person was going to relay that information back to me--that's manipulative in the extreme.
And something I'm not buying, not even for a second. I am glad that my first reaction was "that's bullshit," and that it has remained "that's bullshit." Words are easy, and there has been zero accompanying evidence that this is even remotely true. To be fair, my informant could have just been telling me what she thought I wanted to hear--but somehow I doubt it, because it sure sounds like the person's MO; it sure was when I was hanging around with her. My informant told me that the person seems depressed, and maybe she is, but I think it's just more a function of her working second shift and working for a living for the first time in a few years and just being tired. And also because someone like this, with a core of ice, that is fundamentally incapable of honesty on a meaningful level, isn't capable of getting depressed. When you treat everyone and everything around you as a resource to be exploited and discarded when no longer useful, I'm not buying that you're feeling bad about it. Not when it's happened for twenty years and counting.
At the time all this was going down, I was told by a few people that when one door closes, others open. And that has turned out to be the case. What and who I am involved with now is not a perfect situation, but I am reasonably secure and at peace with it, and one thing I am not concerned about is whether I am being played or whether what appears to be is actually true. It is not going to be easy moving forward; blending two recovery programs isn't in any case, and is less so when the amount of clean time between the individuals is great. There are also the differences in maturity levels that a good-sized gap in age brings. But those matters can be addressed and dealt with effectively when motivations and affection are genuine. Mainly as a result of what happened in the winter, I have been hyper-alert for signs that they are not. But it dawned on me a few weeks ago that the odd feeling I was experiencing was in fact something I had forgotten.
It was the low warmth in the gut one feels when you know somebody is really into you. And I realized that I had not experienced this, on any meaningful level, for a long time--since I was dating my ex-wife over twenty years ago. I am not saying that this is going to go to the place where that went. But I am saying that it's a welcome change, and it's had a huge influence on the way I am have been interacting with the world. I've been able to deal with some trying circumstances much better than I normally do, and I think that feeling secure in this area of my life is one reason why.
And as a final coda to this little operetta, I went to the doctor Tuesday for a follow-up on something that started back in the winter, around the time when my involvement with the person that was talking about me was coming to a crescendo. I went to the doctor in early March--and my blood pressure was sixty points high. When I went back to the doctor in April, it was forty points lower, and this week, it was normal... we all have experiences that we have to go through. The idea is not to not have them, but to learn from them. And I think I did. And even if I didn't learn as much as I think I did, I learned one thing beyond the shadow of the doubt, and that is  that with some people, the best boundary is a brick wall.
I wasn't totally indifferent to the information; some feelings were kicked up. But only some. And I have to say that there was no resumption of obsessing and thinking constantly about this matter and this person. In a way, I'm almost glad I was told what I was told; I think I needed to hear, even indirectly and even with a large degree of dishonesty mixed in, that several months of time wasn't just a black hole for the other person that never really happened. But apart from that...I'm in a better place. I have no desire at all to revisit where I've been. And it was with a shock that I realized that until the third party brought up her name, I really hadn't thought about her or our time around each other for about ten weeks. And after I hit "publish" on this essay, I probably won't think about her or that period in anything other than a fleeting way for another substantial amount of time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: OUTLAW

I've never been a fan of country music, but I've always been aware of it because people in my life have been. My mother listened to the AM country station during the length of my childhood, and my active addiction's soundtrack, as it were, was country music because that's what Sabrina's mother was into at the time. And even though I never liked it, I was mildly interested in the people who personified it, especially those with staying power. Michael Streissguth has written Outlaw, a chronicle of the time when country moved from being a strictly regional and hidebound redneck pursuit to mainstream, and it features the careers of the three men who made the crossover in the 1970's--the so-called "outlaws."
Two of them, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, are still alive. I never thought of the latter as a musician; by the time I became aware of the world around me, he was already a fairly established actor, and the only thing I knew of his musical ability was that he had written Me and Bobby McGee. Reading this book led me to cruise You Tube for about 30 minutes last night, and I have to say that the comparisons to Dylan he apparently inspired when he was new are merely evidence of the place drugs had in our culture circa 1970. But he certainly wasn't awful, to be sure. As for Nelson...well, I've never gotten him. He has had a few hits that have entered the national consciousness, and his stuff has never done it for me, plus his appearance, petty as this sounds, has always turned me off. As far as I am concerned, the best thing about Nelson was a classic line about his failed marriages that any divorced man can relate to: "I'm through with marriage. Next time, I'm just going to find a woman I can't stand and buy her a house."
Waylon Jennings died about a decade ago. All I remember about Jennings is two things: the insipid Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys when I was in high school--and his insanely hot wife Jessi Colter, who was moderately successful at the same time. The book reveals that Jennings was a serious addict, and goes into details about some of the time frame, which interested me mildly.
But if you are not into country music, the information presented here about Nashville and the way it works is tough reading. I made it through because interesting tidbits kept popping up--songs I actually heard of, things like the Robert Altman movie filming, references to Johnny Cash, and others. But I would not recommend this book except to those who are into that genre of music.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Swimming Through Mud

I've written about this in the past, but I'm feeling it even more these past couple of weeks. This must be what living in France before the Revolution was like. There's a bunch of things happening that are, in the long run, untenable and unsustainable. The elite and the rich just get more elite and richer, and their primary purposes are to stay on top of the heap and shift the burdens of maintaining the system as it is onto the backs of those who are already suffering. There are occasionally glimpses of what appears to be hope--for example, this weekend saw Lawrence Summers withdraw his name from consideration for Federal Reserve Chair. But then you realize that it's not exactly a hopeful sign that someone as manifestly unsuitable as Summers, someone who has fallen upward for an entire career for no better reason than he is part of a network of intelligent-sounding dumbasses who happen to be already inside the circles of power, was even considered for the job when all available evidence shows that he would make a mess of cleaning the Federal Reserve Building with a mop and broom.
I've known that the hard times were coming for a long time, because unfortunately I have been gifted with a mind that accurately sees cause and effect. While I am smart, I am hardly a genius, and the point I am trying to make is that if some moderately sharp nobody in upstate New York can see what is likely to happen, why can't the people in a position to actually influence policies and shape the direction we go in? Granted, some of them are not capable--witness the political career of W. But W plays up one of the chief problems we have, one which makes the comparison with Bourbon France valid: it's a closed loop, and qualifications mean next to nothing compared with accidents of birth.
The last time we as a nation were this much in thrall to our moneyed elites was the time period from roughly 1875 until 1932. In that time, we had several Presidents who were essentially non-entities or tools of the elite. In order, Rutherford Hayes (called "Rutherfraud" in his time and place because the Republicans blatantly stole the 1876 election; did nothing to curb the excesses of the robber barons), James Garfield (shot after three months in office), Chester Arthur (political hack who lost any ability to govern at all when he proved to own a conscience and actually took the job description seriously), Grover Cleveland (the Clinton of his day, an alleged liberal who ordered federal troops to massacre striking workers and whose economic policies benefited the plutocrats and caused a depression), Benjamin Harrison (a complete tool of Wall Street), Cleveland again, William McKinley (not only a tool of Wall Street, but the President who started the ball rolling on American global involvement), Theodore Roosevelt (not exactly liberal, but enough of one that the moneyed interests hated his guts and made his life, visage on Mount Rushmore notwithstanding, extremely difficult for him), William Howard Taft (the establishment's answer to Roosevelt, one of the most tone-deaf Presidents in history), Woodrow Wilson (only got into office because Roosevelt tried a comeback and the only truly liberal President of this entire time), Warren Harding (tool of the rich), Calvin Coolidge (see Harding), and Herbert Hoover (see Coolidge). This time period ended in the Great Depression, which, contrary to mythology, didn't really affect the already-wealthy hardly at all.
That's right; the Depression hammered not the wealthy, but the middle class, the ordinary working stiff who suddenly wasn't working anymore and couldn't get a job for years afterwards. And we as a nation caught a break of massive proportions with FDR, the greatest leader we have ever had, or we would have either had a revolution or joined the rest of the world in going totalitarian in the 1930's. And the rich and moneyed hated (and hate) FDR even more than they did Teddy Roosevelt. It isn't generally known, but both Roosevelts survived attempted assassinations, and while they were two of the most popular Presidents, going by vote totals and percentages, in history, the elites of their times and places loathed them. There's a lesson in there somewhere... and the lesson is that the powerful in this country don't care about the vast majority of us. That's right; those in office and in charge would very gladly leave us to fight for garbage and die of starvation and exposure to the elements. They did it in the 1800's, they wanted to do it in the 1930's--and they're doing it now. The difference between then and now is that the political process is more gamed and non-responsive to the great majority of us than it ever has been before, largely because mass media has it made possible for the message to be tweaked enough so that enough of the ignorant are convinced that the fault lies in places other than it actually does.
End of essay. The bottom line is that I just embarked on my sixth decade of life, and it is undeniably going to be the worst as far as maintaining a life above subsistence level. There is no relief forthcoming; there is nothing left to hope for, other than a vague longing for another Rooseveltian miracle, for a traitor to his class to somehow emerge in a position of power. If there is one out there, I can't see him or her. When we are looking at a prospective Hillary Clinton/Chris Christie Presidential contest in three years--well, is New Zealand far enough away?
You can only draw an inside straight so often. We have gotten very lucky as a nation that in the most critical periods in our history, we have had people in charge of the country who actually were capable of seeing beyond both narrow upper class interest and who were not afraid of opposition. Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR--they weren't merely tools of those that took power as a hereditary right, but took their office as leader of all the people very seriously, and weren't afraid to call out and challenge the elites to achieve their aims. Sadly, there isn't anyone like that anywhere on the horizon.
We've busted, just as Rome busted in its last century as a Republic. While Caesar is portrayed in history as the megalomaniac who began the Empire, a more accurate reading of history shows that it was fanatical, elite opposition to Caesar and his more broad-based initiatives that led to the final conflict; Caesar in his time and place was considered a populist. And most of the figures who espoused populist causes in the last century of the Roman Republic came to a bad end --the Gracchi, Drusus, Marius (died as consul, but only after returning from exile), Saturninus, Clodius, and of course Caesar--even though he nominally won, the elite ending up killing him anyway.
I have no idea where in the process we are. I just know it's underway. And it's not going to get better; it only gets worse from here. I am going to spend the last third of my life swimming through mud toward a shore that only grows more distant.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Update From the Sports Desk, Mid-September

1) The Red Sox have swept the Yankees this weekend, after taking three of four a little while ago. Their magic number is 4, and they have the best record in baseball at the moment. They sure have the look of a team that could win the World Series for the third time in nine years. I am not beset with excitement, but I am paying attention again. No matter how much I may be down on baseball as a sport at times, when your favorite team is good, you can't help but perk up a little bit. And it helps that the Sox play the kind of baseball I like--lots of offense, patient hitting, pitchers throw the ball over the plate. And even though his season was interrupted by a three-month injury, Clay Buchholz has a chance to pull off one of the most unusual feats the game offers: the undefeated season. He is 11-0 after being the winning pitcher last night, and he has two more starts left. His ERA, by the way, is a full run lower than the league leader in that category, too.
There is other baseball news of note. The Pirates are going to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992, and are almost a lock for the playoffs. The Nationals, after four months of somnolence, are suddenly making a run at the wildcard spot. The Royals, who have not played a postseason game in nearly thirty years, are still alive and kicking in the AL wild-card race. Even the Yankees are a bit of a compelling story this year; they are somehow in the thick of the wild-card race despite having essentially an offense consisting of Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano, four or five guys who should not be in the major leagues holding down regular jobs, and indifferent-to-bad starting pitching for most of the year. While the games are still way too long and the stench of steroids still permeates the game--well, my team winning almost trumps all that. Almost.
2) Football is two weeks old, and little appears clear--well, other than Jacksonville may well be the worst NFL team in recent memory. And there is a little--just a little to be sure, but some--hope in western New York. The Bills won a game in the final seconds yesterday, scoring a touchdown with ten seconds left to beat the Panthers by a point. Yes, it is the Panthers, who are something like 2-14 in close games the last few years, and it is only one game. But after watching literally a decade of games like this that ended with an interception or a fumble or the clock running out, after a decade of the defense folding like a card table in the fourth quarter to give up the final first down that kills the clock, after a decade of holding calls on plays like the game winner--it was sweet. Coming a week after blowing a game to the Patriots that they could have easily won, it was doubly sweet. They play the Jets next week, and that game will be an indicator of where the team might be headed this year, because the Jets appear to be on the same level as the Bills. If they can win that game, they might make a little noise this year. If they lose it--well, they won't lose every game this year, something that seemed to be at least a remote possibility as recently as three weeks ago, when they were contemplating starting Matt Leinhart at quarterback.
And the Giants look awful. There isn't much in the way of defense, they can't run the ball, and Eli Manning is apparently going to have one of those years when he is the Pick Machine. Giants fans don't like to hear this, but even though they won two Super Bowls, they have really not been all that good for several years now--the second Super Bowl winner was outscored during its 9-7 regular season just two years ago. And Manning, two rings aside, really isn't that good; he has always thrown far too many picks. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the annals of multiple-championship quarterbacks already, and that's only going to get worse as he gets older...yeah, I know the Giants have won two Super Bowls with Manning, something most other NFL teams can't even comprehend. But sometimes the inexplicable does happen in sports, and football is susceptible to it more than other sports because the teams don't play series in the playoffs. And the Giants, whatever their luck in the last six years, aren't going to win the Super Bowl this year. I'd categorically rule out the playoffs, too, except there isn't a good team in their division, and they might sneak in with an 8-8 or 9-7 record again. But every team in the NFC North and, I suspect, NFC West is better than the Giants are.
3) NASCAR had perhaps the most unusual week that any sport ever had, which ended with one guy getting disqualified from the Chase, two guys getting put in, and the guy who most blatantly cheated getting no substantial penalty at all. I remember participating in an ESPN chat several years ago and asking a question about whether teams would resort to cheating in the final race before the Chase began in order to help their teammates and being assured that it would never happen because--I don't know, something stupid like sport being full of Southern Baptist boys or some other drivel. Well, it happened this year, and the powers that run the sport have a major mess to clean up not only now, but in years to come. For the record, I think NASCAR did the right thing, for the most part, and not only just because my favorite driver is Jeff Gordon. But they didn't go far enough; Clint Bowyer should have been tossed from the Chase. It's become clear that Bowyer is a jackass, a first class weasel who can dish it out but can't take it (remember his silly little WWE act from his dustup with Gordon last fall); watching him lie unconvincingly on television all this week has been infuriating. It has also become clear that Michael Waltrip, the owner of the team he drives for, is a weasel, too; this is the same team that started their first Sprint Cup season by getting caught blatantly cheating and getting major penalties... bending the rules happens in all sports, to be sure. But manipulating the outcomes of the actual contests by your actions while the contest is going on is over the line. Getting into intentional accidents, letting guys pass you on purpose--it's no different than throwing baseball games or point-shaving in basketball. What NASCAR should have done was park all three Waltrip cars for the remainder of the season, and withhold the purses from the two teams that colluded to let Joey Logano pass them at Richmond for the next few races. And then in the off-season, they should do something that makes the Chase format less susceptible to chicanery. I'm not sure what that would be off the top of my head, but there are several solutions that have been bandied about, and I'm sure a few of them have merit.
4) English soccer season has started! I know that I'm the only one I know that cares, but the season is four weeks old already, and there have been a few surprises already. One is that the three newly promoted teams have all done reasonably well; all have won games already, and none are currently in a relegation position. Liverpool is on top of the league, with a game in hand on the other two teams with nine points, and the other Liverpudlian entry in the league, Everton, is the only other team that has not lost yet (three draws and a victory). Last year turned into a deadly dull plod to the finish, as Manchester United routed the rest of the league. This year holds the promise of being more competitive.
5) And lastly, for the second time this year, Tiger Woods was assessed a penalty for an infraction of the rules of golf. And for the second time this year, he is whining about it, claiming that was obvious on video didn't happen... there are no words to describe what an awful human being this guy is. And yet he remains insanely popular among golf fans, if not the general public anymore. Goes to show both how much American sports fans are front-runners, and also how the general American mindset has changed over the last 35 years or so so that assholes can not only survive, but thrive. A society can't help but be judged by the things it admires, and the fact that a narcissistic selfish ass who clearly believes that the rules do not apply to him, whether on the course or in life, like Woods still has legions of fans doesn't speak well of us, at all. No wonder that our elites treat us with contempt; we seem to cheer them on when they do.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Review: THE BLACK BOX

Micheal Connelly is another writer on my "awesome" list. I have read every book in a series that now numbers nearly two dozen, most of them about Detective Harry Bosch (and the ones that have not have tied into the Bosch novels as time has progressed, which is one of the things I have liked best it; like someone's life, there are no true stand-alones). The Black Box is the latest Bosch-centered novel, and it's the best (and I want to emphasize that the previous ones have been good) he's done in several years. The plot is beguilingly simple": Bosch, assigned to a cold case unit for a few books now, gets handed one from the riots in 1992, and in typical Bosch fashion starts to get to the bottom of the mystery. While many of the same staples of Bosch's career come into play, there are also some changes, some variations, that make it plausible that this is not just some formula for cranking out books. Bosch's relationship with his teen daughter, new to his life in recent books, is an active subplot, as are his tentative, fumbling attempts at romance. He makes a conscious effort to improve his relations with his police partner. The Internal Affairs investigation takes a major twist, and the lame-ass boss is shown to be how most people in his position would be--marginally effective at manipulation.
In short, the best things about the Bosch novels, and any Connelly book for that matter, are the details, the ones that subtly support the plot, and the ones that remind the reader that as much as Bosch views his job as a mission, that mission is not his life, and that his life is worthy of the reader's attention, too. I have no idea of how Connelly is going to eventually wind this series up; he "retired" Bosch a few years ago, only to have him return (as many retirees will) to the job. And real-life intervenes in his books as well; the budget crunch facing Los Angeles recently is referenced in dozens of ways, all small but all also painting a picture of authenticity that is very unusual in mystery/suspense writers. I love Connelly and his books, but I enjoyed this one more than most.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


As a single dad who has raised a now high-school age daughter with only limited and sporadic help, especially in the last five years, I am well aware of the vicissitudes of parenting, and also have no problem at all seeing the humor in it. Don't Lick the Minivan, subtitled "And Other Things I Thought I'd Never Say to my Kids", by Canadian humorist and Ironic Mom blogger Leanne Shirtliffe, is a memoir, of sorts, of her twins' first few years on earth. Raising twins is beyond my comprehension; I had a really hard time with one kid as a preschooler and toddler, and I can't imagine having had to deal with two at once, even should I have had a partner during that time. But Shirtliffe has a wonderful, dry sarcastic humor that will make the reader laugh out loud at least once every few pages, and the adventures that the book details of the twins are often hilarious, adventures that most parents can identify with because we can remember dozens of instances when our own kids did similar things. And not for the first time, I am glad that I have had only daughters; nearly every parent of boys has a catalogue of young male child urination stories that blow my mind, experiences I am happy to say I do not share. But some of the others here--learning to be suspicious of quiet, some of the novel questions kids ask, the meltdowns, and most of all the heartwarming unexpected joys--are matters I can and do totally identify with.
There are some rather somber moments more alluded to than described--severe post-partum depression and another mental health episode when her children were preschoolers--that are, unfortunately, also a part of far too many lives that I am grateful I missed. Her husband has stepped up when needed, a circumstance that not everyone has in their lives. But overall this is a highly entertaining book.

Friday, September 13, 2013


About two months ago, I ended up taking the key to open the church in Endicott where my Thursday night meeting takes place and adding the responsibility of opening the doors and setting the meeting up. Endicott has never been a large meeting, which is a large part of its appeal to me, and since I was going there most every week, I didn't have a problem with it, especially since the guy who had been doing the job for years has moved to Buffalo and there was no other obvious candidate.
I'm starting to have a problem with it now. Last night, when 7 PM came, three people were there--which matched the number of alleged home group members who said they weren't going to make it. Two more showed up after we started, one 15 minutes late (which is acceptable, I suppose) and one an hour. But this is getting old. There are people who part of this group who show up once a month, if that, and this is the only meeting they make regularly. One of them has been a sponsee of mine for a few months now--but his interest in actually doing the work seems to be considerably less than his interest in being able to tell the people he has to answer to that he has a sponsor. Another one has a substantial amount of clean time, but--I'll be kind here, seems to be ambivalent about remaining part of this community. A third, not a home group member but one who lives a few blocks away, has made all sorts of noise about wanting to open more NA meetings in Endicott--but doesn't even show up to this one very often. There are a few others that come and go that are in a "go" stage, and the result is that I've committed two hours of time and a quarter tank of gas for three or four other people.
It's gotten old real fast.
I have four sponsees on paper, with a fifth dropping broad hints that he wants me to sponsor him, but I see the same two every week that actually are doing the work. And unlike some people in the fellowship, I'm not one for window dressing or wearing the number of sponsees I supposedly work with like a badge. Sponsorship is the heart of recovery; any fool can stay abstinent for often-surprising lengths of time, but real change, real recovery, only takes place by working the steps and the application of spiritual principles in your life. Sponsorship saved my life, and made the life I lead today possible. I take it very seriously, and I'm not one to participate in charades. My integrity is the core of my being these days, and I'm not going to sit back and let three or four people with no interest in doing the work to tell people they're working with me when they're not. When I tell people that I'm not one that requires phone calls daily and that level of involvement, I mean it--but I also mean it when I say I need to meet "regularly", weekly in practice, and you need to have read the literature and be willing to discuss it in some detail.
If you're not doing that, then I'm not your sponsor. And please have enough integrity to stop telling people that I am. And it's not my responsibility to call you and set up meetings between us. I have a job, I'm raising a kid, I have other commitments of a full life. A's sitting in a halfway house, B's still on Drug Court, C's unemployed, etc. I don't really understand how you're so busy so that I have to work around your schedule. Or more bluntly, if you truly want me to be your guide through the steps--start acting like it. Get off your dead ass, stop smoking your cigarettes incessantly, stop making excuses for why you can't read the literature or show up for meetings, and actually do something. This isn't rocket science, but it doesn't happen by wishing for it to happen. And I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but I had and have a pretty decent life before you ever came along, and I'm going to whether you're a part of it or not. I'm willing to make a place for you in it, but it's a two-way street; I'm not working harder, much harder, than you to make it happen.
And the same for this commitment to the home group. I'm not busting my ass to get out there every week for a number of farts in the wind who show up when they feel like it. If you don't want to be there, then say so and stop the charade. When your main excuse for not making a lot of meetings is that you can't get to Binghamton very often--and then you don't make the one that's actually near to where you live--well, just shut up already and stop wasting our oxygen. And I'm seriously starting to wonder whether I'm willing to commit my time and energy and money--because driving to Endicott is a bit of a hassle for me--for the same three people every week. I love you guys, but we can talk on the phone just as easily.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thunderstorms Rolling In

The last few months have been relatively peaceful around here. But as often happens, things all come crashing together at once, and all of a sudden there's fifteen things going on and I'm hanging on for dear life. I'm fairly open about my life in these pages, and yet I've learned over the years that some areas, and my thoughts about those areas, should stay out of a public forum, and I'm not going to change that tendency today. My personal life has some new developments coming that are going to alter the routines that I've gotten used to. The fall always brings a bit of chaos and activity to my job, and this year is going to be no exception. With my daughter in high school, there are changes already afoot, with more coming, and the developments in my personal life are going to necessarily be developments, on a smaller scale, in her life, as well. There are issues going on around the actual house that I'm not going to talk about publicly, but are sapping my time, money, and energy. After a rather uneventful first year as a trusted servant in our fellowship, all of a sudden there are demands on my time coming from that quarter. Travel team softball again looks possible, at least for a short time, and I'm going to have to adjust my schedule and time frames to those commitments.
I guess I am bringing this all up because, even after nearly fifteen years clean, I still have to live my life one day at a time. When I look at all the things going on at the same time, I tend to feel overwhelmed and think that all of it is going to come crashing down. When I sit down and write out what I need to do on a daily basis, somehow things manage to get down, and progress is possible. Before I leave the house in the morning, I pray for the ability to accept and to endure what may happen, for knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out, and for those who matter greatly to me to be happen to get through what they are going to come up against that day. It may seem simple; it might even seem banal. But it does work, especially if I remember, during difficult stretches of the day, to ask again for guidance and strength in the immediate present.
And sometimes you have to manage your time like an air traffic controller manages the sky. This morning, I have a phone conference (mercifully brief) at 10 and an appointment in Endicott at 11, and last night I was reminded that I have to help on an NA Area matter sometime this morning, too, and then on top of that I promised someone that I don't break promises to that I would do something before 9 AM, too. So it's going to be a very busy morning, and I suspect that the afternoon is going to be full of fallout from yesterday's phone conference. I have to open up the Endicott meeting at 6:30ish this evening, as well; two trips to Endicott are going to necessitate a trip to Hess or Kwik Fill, and money is already tight this week because I haven't paid my rent yet this month (I am so blessed to have a patient and understanding landlord). Any dreams I had of more money coming in in the near future vanished yesterday, not unless I should get a second job, and that is a possibility I have to consider undertaking in the near future, but right now, I don't have it and I don't have time to look for it. It's enough to take care of the things I have to take care of on a daily basis. The other matters will take care of themselves if I do that and don't try to manipulate the situation.
It's not rocket science; I'm not guaranteed a happy ending; and it can be stressful as hell. But fortunately I've learned that problems are opportunities, too. In the midst of all this, I'm learning much about the world around me and myself, and I've also strengthened bonds with my daughter and my friends, made new friends, become a better and more rounded employee, and found out that my heart has not frozen or withered into terminal cynicism. Anything worth having is something worth striving for; my own experience has shown me that if something comes easily, I tend to take it for granted and don't appreciate it. I've gotten to a point where I don't mind when the terrain gets rough, when a storm breaks around me; it makes more appreciative of what I do have and it makes work harder to keep the worthwhile in my life.
It could be, and has been, much worse in the past.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What We Should Be Mourning This 9/11

Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object—Abraham Lincoln

This is the twelfth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. This is the first year since where the airwaves and social media have not been inundated with "Never Forget!" messages and gratuitous anti-Muslim propaganda. There are some sober reminderss, to be sure, out there, and I don't have a problem with that. But one positive aspect about the current debate over whether the United States should intervene militarily in Syria is that the flag wavers and militants are, at least temporarily, in abeyance. For the first time since the attacks happened, the national response is not overly tinged with expressions of vengeance and violence. Maybe we're beginning to get somewhere as a nation.
Or maybe it's just a matter of reality settling in, of the people indelibly scarred by 9/11 belatedly realizing that the men and women we entrusted with responding to the attacks botched the job to the point where we will be paying a far greater price for a much longer period of time than the damage done by the terrorists. The last year has brought us revelations that the government security apparatus, given extraordinary power in the wake of the attacks in order to combat terrorists, has instead largely used that power to spy and collect data on us. We are approaching the twelfth anniversary of military involvement in Afghanistan, with no end in sight--we have been there longer than the Russians were, bin Laden has been dead for nearly two and a half years, and yet the involvement goes on and on and on. In the city where the Twin Towers fell, the mayor that succeeded to office in 2002 is just now leaving it, and his legacy is going to be two pieces of legislation/policy that would have been unthinkable twelve years ago because of their disdain for constitutional safeguards--stop-and-frisk procedures and a ban on goddamn super-size soda sales, of all things. Where the Pentagon attacks took place, this past week has seen revelations that banks have been abusing power given to them by a government too broke to properly staff itself by essentially stealing people's homes for debts ridiculously low or, in many cases, that were paid. 
This is the true legacy of 9/11. The people who planned and carried out these attacks did so with the express aim of trying to get the United States military presence in the Middle East reduced or eliminated, and in that aim they failed miserably.But if their secondary aim was to make the people of the United States feel pain and alter their way of life for the worse--they succeeded. To be sure, a lot of the trends that have been accelerated in the last dozen years were already present in 2001--but 9/11 and the response to it have certainly caused the metamorphosis of our society from one of broad-based affluence and respect for civil liberties into one that doesn't look too much different, labels aside, from that the terrorists came from to gain speed. The Christian Taliban has not taken over this country, but it has gained enough influence that responsible and effective governing is nearly impossible now. The window dressing of democratic process is in place, but actual policy and decision-making is increasingly divorced from those who vote, and the choices available to the electorate have dwindled into meaninglessness. The militaristic bent of this country is now more or less openly acknowledged as "security" issues have become paramount, and new threats are emphasized even as older ones are discarded as nonsensical chimeras upon further review.
9/11 did change everything. It was the day when, frightened out of our minds, we began to openly surrender--voluntarily, in most cases--our responsibility to be informed citizens and to actively participate in the political process, and we ceded that responsibility to those who gave lip service to what we wanted, but merely wish to consolidate control of the society to benefit themselves. And they have largely succeeded, and the powers that they have been given by us virtually ensure that, short of a revolution, there is no going of the seminal documents in American history is the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln's question in it--"can a nation conceived in liberty long endure?"--was not rhetorical; Lincoln, a man who knew and valued the lessons taught by history more than any contemporary figure in politics, was well aware that historic precedent showed that democracies did not have a long shelf life. The United States has already beaten the odds by remaining somewhat of a representative democracy for over two centuries.
But in many ways, the best historical match for the United States of American was the city/state/empire that was classical Rome. The Roman Empire started out as the Roman Republic, and the change occurred in the time frame when expansionist foreign policy came to dominate politics, when increased commitments around the (known) world led to increasingly large numbers of "threats" that resulted in the military forces and the mercantile class that profited from the application of force coming to dominate the governing apparatus. What led to the establishment of Empire was when elements of the oligarchy turned savagely on one another in an attempt to garner all the power and all the spoils of conquest--and you don't have to be Einstein to figure out a parallel to today's politics. The one common ground between conservatives and progressives in the Rome of Marius, Sulla, Caesar, and Octavian was that Roman forces around the world could not be harmed without punitive measures being taken, and that Roman force was the ultimate provider of justice in sectarian conflict. Rome added more than one province to the empire in the name of providing stability and order in regions where one group of natives behaved barbarically toward another.
Sounds rather familiar today, doesn't it?
I was saddened and affected as much as--perhaps more, since I lost a couple of friends in the disaster--the average American by 9/11/01. But even at the time, I was very skeptical that a policy of blind and quick vengeance was the best way to go, and when the open-ended, incredibly vague "war on terror" became official policy, I know we were doomed--how do you end a war against an enemy you can't even define? A dozen years later, no end is in sight, and we have bankrupted ourselves and impoverished our citizenry and allowed most of our Bill of Rights to be compromised for--what? The initial aim of the policy changes was accomplished 28 months ago, and yet still we are not only still involved in Afghanistan, but we are actively seeking, almost like a crackhead maniacally pursuing the next one, another conflict to become involved in. This is the new reality, ladies and gentlemen, and it's nothing to celebrate. I am willing to mark this date as a sign of respect for the victims of 9/11--but it doesn't make me any less of a "patriot" to deplore what has been undertaken and achieved in its aftermath.
It has turned more into a commemoration of a society and way of life forever lost than a memorial to the innocent dead. And the worst part about that loss is that we gave it away ourselves. Osama bin Laden and his terrorist henchmen haven't irrevocably changed American life for the worse; we've accepted the unacceptable in the name of "security", in too many cases with our active support. And even now, as a good majority of our citizenry seems to have belatedly realized that foreign interventions are not good for the country as a whole, we are treated to the spectacle of a full-court media and political push to legitimize the naked exercise of force, and a disturbing number of signs that it's going to take place regardless of whether the people who put our leaders in office want it or not.

Allow the President to invade a nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at his pleasure—Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: DOWNFALL

Almost against my will, I've read quite a few Jeff Abbott books. He's not the worst suspense writer out there, but in the past, his efforts have suffered from unrealistic body counts and people able to function with crippling injuries. And clearly, in Downfall, he struggled with that tendency, but for the first time, he actually seems to have made some concessions to reality in this aspect--the injuries the characters suffer actually affect them, and in some cases put them out of action for some time. The protagonist of this novel is Sam Capra, a former CIA agent that Abbott has used before, and the yarn he spins is actually a fairly good one, even if the evil mastermind does seem a bit over the top in his reach and malevolence. The notion that conspiracies are locked in mortal combat to control the world is not a novel approach; Abbott's main contribution to this genre is that so many of the players are unknown and remain so, much like outfits like al-Qaeda are actually organized. I found this story particularly engrossing, as the ultimate aim of the plot is revealed to be placing an operative as the President of the United States, but the subplot explored--the effect of deceit and violence on the people who become part of the various conspiracies--is one that is the meat and potatoes of the book, and it's actually rather well done. There are enough loose ends so that another installment is inevitable, but the most encouraging part about this book is that Abbott is evolving into a better, more refined writer. In sports terms, he is approaching his prime, and the next few books hopefully will reveal what he is capable of at the top of his game.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Travel Team Reversal

I simply can't afford it. 
That's the bottom line. Sabrina's first travel team practice was yesterday, and when it ended, the parents were handed a sheet of paper. First installment for expenses and fall tournaments: $400, and the coach also wants an additional $150 to start paying for summer tournaments, as well. If that was the only expense, I would swallow hard and pay it, but there's been another fall tournament added, and both are in New Jersey, and that's going to mean another $500 easily for hotels, gas, and food.
And I can't do it. Sabrina texted her aunt hoping for some help with it, but 1) I doubt its forthcoming, and 2) even if it is, there's no way I can consider doing this for three months next summer. I can't be spending my entire paycheck on traveling--not without doing things like ignoring NYSEG, credit card companies, and other providers of necessities. 
Of course she's heartbroken. And so am I. But I simply can't do it. I know what I wrote a few weeks ago, but it's taken me eight years to accumulate a bit of a cushion--and believe me, it's not much of one--as a safety precaution against unexpected expenses and disaster. And not even a full season of travel team softball would completely wipe it out. I'm not going to do that. I don't even know where Christmas money is going to come from this year; as it is, every week I spend everything I make, and we're not exactly awash in luxuries here. 
It's a really sad day for me, when you have to tell your kid that something is no longer possible. With Sabrina, that day got put off longer than most kids, but reality is reality. What a way to start high school--by having to tell your kid that one of her cherished dreams isn't going to be able to come true, through no fault of her own. 
I could rage about how expensive this is. I could complain that the coach didn't play 100% straight at the parents' meeting (there was supposed to be one fall tournament, and closer than New Jersey). But the coach isn't the problem; realistically, compared to other softball travel teams, his team is pretty inexpensive, which totally blows my mind. I could tell you that it's symptomatic of what is wrong with this country, how it's another example of how the wealthy have bent even recreational pursuits into their exclusive preserve. I could point out that that self-centered, moronic twit that gave birth to her is totally useless as a responsible parent and contributes nothing to her well-being. And I wouldn't be wrong. But the overwhelming feeling is sadness. 
That I tried, that I've tried to find a way to make this work, is no solace. It just sucks when you run up against the limits of what you can realistically provide.