Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Startling Echo of A Dangerous Time

It has been ten days since the White House gained a new occupant. I can't even begin to describe the objectionable, stupid, and/or morally reprehensible actions of the Trump presidency thus far. What I am going to point out today are two essential points that people with functional consciences that are not hardened, irredeemable assholes need to absorb and act upon without delay.
The first is none of what has taken place should be a surprise to anyone. He is doing what he said he was going to do, and Trump being Trump, he is doing as much as he possibly can by executive order, because that's the way Trump is and has been his entire life. There are many ways that the fact that he is President is an indictment of how broken and awful our political system is, but perhaps the most disturbing in the long term is that so many people that marked ballots for him are so used to politicians not doing things that they say they are going to do when they are campaigning that it comes as a major shock when somebody actually does walk the walk. I certainly do not admire Trump or any of his announced agenda so far, but I will say this much--he has a fifty-year history of trying to accomplish what he says he wants to do. The bullshit and lies come later, when what he wants to do blows up in his face and crashes down.
The second is that while a lot of the country is absolutely aflame with outrage--much of it is not, not by a long shot. I'm not seeing protests in places like Tennessee and Utah and South Dakota and Louisiana. I'm not seeing anyone from Alabama and Iowa and Missouri freaking out on my TV. In the cultural cross-section that is social media, I'm seeing a vocal minority highly enthusiastic about the measures being taken in a supposedly liberal bastion like the state I live in. While polling numbers may tell us that Trump's disapproval ratings are historically high for a guy in his first month in office--there are still nearly 40% of the people asked that are approving of what he is doing.
This is what a house divided looks like, people. If you wondered, when you were in high school and daydreaming in American history classes, what it was actually like in the 1850's as the country lurched toward civil war, you don't have to imagine anymore. The fault lines of this society are largely sectarian, and many of the same issues are dividing us as those that were dividing us 140 years ago: racism, anti-immigrant fervor based on religious intolerance, a sharp divide over the country acting as an imperial power in foreign policy, a judicial system devoted to protecting the elites and unresponsive to changes in culture and population, Congressional leaders entrenched in the corridors of power and beholden to particular special interests, a generation whose time had passed stubbornly refusing to give way.
And most frighteningly, a vocal, reactionary minority armed to the teeth and ready to shed blood for racist, exclusionary, and anti-democratic values. Ready to kill for their right to lord it over other human beings. Ready to use the power of the government they claim they despise to force the majority of the nation to bend to their will. Protests are a start, but if anyone thinks that popular outrage is going to stop these people, they're out of their mind. The best-case--best case-- is that the ballot box finally brings to power not only a President that is not a tool of the existing corporate powers and a champion of fascistic elements, and those determined to live in a society that espouses and enforces racist, know-nothing, might-is-right values decide that they do not want to be a part of the United States anymore. Whether the rest of us fight another war to bring them back, or end up fighting another war to keep them penned up in the pestilential hellholes that these climate change-denying, environmentally unfriendly are going to turn the South, West, and southwest into in as the inevitable progression occurs, is a question for my daughter's generation when they are my age.
But make no mistake. There are a few people that are saying, "oh my god, what I have done by voting for this guy?" But there are a lot more who are cheering, because it is exactly what they voted for. I've stopped being overtly political, for the most part, in my everyday life, not because I don't care or because my views have changed.
I'm watching, taking notes and taking names. When the real shit storms starts, it will be good to know who's on the right side, who's on the dark side, who can be ignored, who has to dealt with. And there is no longer any doubt in my mind that the shit storm is coming. I'm not sure when, But unless I get cancer or something and die in the next year or two, I'm afraid that I am going to see it start... What I gave a lot of thought to, when I first began to consider the pre-Civil War era with an adult mind, was not the people who grew up with sectarian strife and discordant value systems as their default, normal state. I wondered about the people that were born after the country was independent, that began life in the America of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, that saw over the course of their life the country move from "The Era of Good Feeling" to a society at war with itself. I thought that it must have been a bitter disappointment to those people to see what they had known all their lives fall to pieces.
And now, I don't have to imagine how they felt. The America I grew up is already gone. But what it is becoming is a place that I don't want to be in. It's gotten past the point of caring who wins the contest; I mean, obviously I would like my values and mindset to triumph. But at what cost? Do I really want another fight to the death? Do I really want to live in a country where friends and relatives are implacably opposed on substantive matters?
Well, as John Lydon sang so long ago, 'This is what you want. And this is what you get."

Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review: THE IMMORTAL THRONE

The Immortal Throne is Stella Gemmell's long-awaited sequel to The City, a fantasy novel of a world and city ruled by demigods but populated by people technologically advanced to the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the first book was published four years ago, and I had forgotten much of what had happened; it took most of this book before I recalled most of the previous events. This book follows the course of a disastrous war that the City's mad emperor has embarked on, his deposition, and the renewal of hostilities by an army that cannot be bought off. There are several main characters--people in the armies, spies, refugees, and courtiers--and although the plot twists are somewhat opaque at times, the characters never fail to be interesting, and the action does not flag, even over 550 pages. It took me a week to read this because I was busy, not because it was dull. As the book ends, the main villain, of a sort, has perished, but in the midst of an apocalyptic battle, and I am not sure where the story arc can go from here. But when the new book arrives, I will be reading it.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Woman, Interrupted

After nearly thirteen years of working in a runaway/homeless youth program, another few years of working for other non-profits, after decades in first active addiction and now recovery, there is little that surprises me any longer about how poorly human beings can treat other human beings, and more specifically how poorly parents can treat their own children. It's not possible to become deeply, intimately involved with everyone who has spent most or all of a lifetime untangling the damage done, especially when one is picking up their own pieces. But it happens that some people do get close to you, however it happens and under whatever circumstances. Their struggle doesn't quite become your struggle, but you gain an interest, you become an ally, and you intervene as best you can. You become a support they can rely on, in some cases. You become a friend. And on occasion, you fall for them, not because you want to fix them or be a superhero, but in large part because you come to appreciate who they really are. You see the resiliency and admire the courage they have displayed. You stand in awe of the obstacles they have overcome. You feel privileged that despite all their travails, they are still capable of feeling attracted to someone, and you feel awesome that that someone is you.
One of the many reasons that I am optimistic that this time is going to be different is because we are in uncharted territory. The roots of nearly every addict's problems lie buried in the soils of childhood, which is why 12-Step programs are so effective when someone actually works 12 Steps. For the first time in her life, events and issues that need to be addressed if she is ever going to recover and to become a healthy woman are being addressed, and the emotional progress in four months has been nothing short of stunning. My presence in her life is a large factor in why she has felt able to step forward; for the first time in her life, she feels like she is not going to be abandoned, like someone truly cares about her, and that she can find her own way without being judged or expected to be something she is not capable of being, and/or subordinate what she needs to do for herself to the desires of someone else. The strength and intelligence and kind-hearted soul that I always knew was inside her, and that I have seen erratically but often enough for me to not ever totally give up on her, is now front and center. She's not out of the woods, and considering how much ground there is to travel, she's going to have rough patches and major problems on occasion for some time to come. But at least the journey has begun.
And along with my pride in her, along with the growing affection, along with the swelling hope, there is also some anger that I have to quell and turn over. Not regarding anything she says or does; knowing what I know now, there's no reason to be. And it isn't even with the people from the addiction world so much; I mean, I don't like what happened to her there, but it isn't like they are going to be a part of her life if she stays on this path. Some of it is directed at some of her family members, but there are limits, too, to that. However much damage has been done, and a lot has been done, it is still her family, and they are always going to be a presence on some level no matter what boundaries get established and adhered to.
It has to do with her experience with "friends." There is obviously a connection to her judgment ability--if there is a consistent pattern in a person's life, some responsibility obviously lies with the individual. But not entirely, because I've seen some of the things that cause intense pain to her even where she is now, over the last few months. To put it bluntly, why go out of your way to say you are going to do something and then not do it? Why ask for an address to write to, and then not write? Why (going back a year) make a big deal of saying that "we have to get together or hang out," and then not follow up? I've seen this happen now repeatedly for the better part of three years, and I've seen it happen with women that I would never have thought were like that or would do that. And these are the nicer, better types of women, too; I'm not even talking about the two or three-faced, judgmental women that form a substantial part of the population of women in treatment and the fellowships--not that they don't do their own damage, because they do, but at least their full venom is only dispensed once and one learns to be wary of them, which she is... It is what it is. But it hurts me when I see her say, matter-of-factly, "I don't really have friends." Because after knowing her for almost four years, I can reliably assure you it has not been for lack of trying. And whatever other faults Lauren may have, she is not bitchy or two-faced or nasty or mean-spirited. I honestly have no idea of why at least a few women have not made even minimal commitments to being friends with her. I've gone from wondering about it to getting irritated to getting pissed about it. There are a number of people that say the words and talk a good game, but don't do a fucking thing beyond talk. It takes twenty minutes to write a letter. You can't do that once a month? It's fine if you don't want to, or if you really don't like her. Just don't pretend that you do, then, because to someone that is in a place where any indication that they are not forgotten is not only welcome, but psychologically necessary to feed hope, unkept promises and bullshit hurt even worse than they normally would.
Anyway...You can learn a lot by listening. You can do a lot of good just by being honest and practicing integrity. And once in a while, something unexpected, unforeseen happens. I have been a firm believer for many years that there are no coincidences. I don't believe that God necessarily makes things happen, and it irritates me profoundly when people talk about "God's plans" for us, because we're not robots and we have responsibility for our own lives. But I do believe that God provides us with opportunities for growth, for helping each other, for learning and knowledge--and for happiness, too. I think that's why the Step process culminates in the seeking of knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out; one's life becomes finding those opportunities and running with them once they are found. These opportunities are rarely obvious, or they wouldn't have to be sought. I cringe now when I recall all the times in early recovery when I piously intoned to any audience I could find that I was "doing God's work;" God's work always seemed to have the end result that I got what I was hoping to get. That view is the self-absorption of the active addict dressed in nicer clothing; it's a more refined way of trying to dope-feen God.
Along the way in the Step process, you learn a lot more about yourself, and about what living by spiritual principles entails. You learn to see yourself coming; you learn your biases and your prejudices and the things about yourself that have been "defects". But your character is your character; it's the motivations behind how we use it that makes them "defects" or "assets." And while our motivations need to change, fundamentally changing much of ourselves is yet another expression of our tendency to run on self-will. God made us the way He did for reasons of His own, and for me to completely overhaul His work would make me, not Him, the Higher Power. I know now that much of the way I am that I used to regard as defects of character are not necessarily my actual character. To take one obvious example, I am not inherently "judgmental." The qualities of character that go into being judgmental are: having a strong sense of right and wrong (sitting in judgment implies that the person you are judging is doing something wrong, and it bothers you); intelligence (seeing the situation as it clearly is, and being able to see all the ramifications of what the other person is doing); caring about others (not liking the effects of what the person is doing on other people), and a healthy sense of self (seeing the difference between the other person's actions and what you do). What makes it "judgmental" is what I do with the knowledge of what I see, and my motivations behind what I do with it. Talking to someone one-on-one privately about what bothers you is one thing, and talking to the person's significant other because you hope they lose interest in the person you are talking about and get interested in you is another--yet both result from decisions to act on the same knowledge.
And with Lauren, I freely admit that I would not have paid her the slightest bit of attention three-plus years ago if she had had brown eyes, dark hair, weighed two hundred pounds, and been loud and brassy. I have always found myself attracted to women with blond or red hair, blue eyes, and body-types that are not either real thin or real heavy. But what I've done with that initial attraction has been where the seeking of God's will has come into play, and led both of us to a place neither of us ever dreamed we'd be. I could have tried to hit it and run--but I didn't. She could've played me for a sugar daddy--but didn't. I could've written her off after the relapses, after the missteps and attention-seeking and the not-done-yets--but I didn't. She could've walked away after my expressions of disappointment and anger during her learning processes--but didn't. I've seen the slow opening up, the dawn of trust, the final determination to stop dying because of others and start living for herself. I've seen the overcoming of doubts, the confronting of fear and walking through it, the decision to love being made. And I have gone through the same process in my own mind, too. It has been a conscious decision. Is it truly God's will?
I don't know the full answer to that question, Not yet, and the full answer may only come at the end of my life. But I know that to this point, I believe it largely is. When all the broth is boiled off, God's will is that we realize that we are all in this together, and that we conduct ourselves accordingly. I know I have a made a huge difference in her life, and that she has made a huge difference in mine. Whatever the eventual outcome is, whatever our lives look like 20 years from now, I know beyond doubt that the opportunity for both of us to choose a better, more spiritually-inclined life was presented to us nearly four years ago--and while maybe we haven't walked it through in a straight line, we nonetheless took the opportunity. We are still taking it.
And what we were talking about all day yesterday was simply an unimaginable topic of conversation then, or even a year ago. I'm not even speaking of the logistics of living under the same roof, of financial repair, of the accessories of a "normal" and "clean" life, of the future, of the path of recovery, and even of the reservations and issues with many of the people of our mutual acquaintance. It was core--it was facing and starting to resolve the deep factors that have fed the disease of addiction, that continue to gnaw at her soul, that have caused and still cause pain. I have not gone through much of what she has--but I have gone through the same process, faced the same challenges, had to find the same acceptance of ambiguous answers to some of the same and many similar questions. This stuff that has been buried under layers of pain, hurt, and consequences for many years is what is the source of addiction.
And I realize that I am not the only person that can be helpful to her with this. But I am, frankly, the starting point. I hear the same things that she has in fellowship circles--but those that cry "women with the women" the loudest have also done the most damage, been the most hypocritical, been the least accepting, to other women and, more to the specific point, her. Her one experience with "sponsorship" in the rooms consisted of one meeting with one woman in 2014--who spent the hour and a half they met giving a monologue on trying to find a way to kill the man she was embroiled in a toxic relationship with and get away with it. Last night, I spoke with someone in the rooms, who told me that the same woman and the same guy, from the summer of 2014, had gotten into an altercation at the meeting yesterday morning, that resulted in police involvement. There have been other instances of "helpful" women, and men, not being helpful at all--she's been targeted for some of her associations during addiction by some for very thinly-disguised reasons of jealousy; she's been judged for the small morsels of information about her life she did disclose; she's been preyed upon by some women who took advantage of someone that has often questioned her true sexuality. I know a lot more than I used to, and this kind of crap happens a lot more than I ever dreamed it did. All of us have at least a little divergence between our public personas and the reality of who we are when few or none are looking--but there are some that are truly "being clean while living foul." I fully understand why she is determined to pursue, at least at the start of the process, a path of recovery that is a different fellowship than the one I have found recovery in.
And it is not God's will for me to change her mind on that. I believe that it is my role to be encouraging and supportive in her taking the directions she is more comfortable taking at the moment. I am aware that there is some noise in my chosen fellowship about this--about all of it, to be truthful. I'm not so self-centered as to think that "everyone" is concerned with what I am doing, but I know that I don't exist in a vacuum, either. But at this point, I don't really care about the noise and those that make it. I have a support group, and I have people in my life that help guide me, that are vessels of my Higher Power, that help me come to a better understanding of what God's will may be because they, too, have a strong conscious contact with Him.
And God's will for me, for some time and for some time to come, involves, partially but substantially, being helpful and supportive and loving to my significant other. It has been a joy beyond words to see Girl, Interrupted playing out in front of and then beside me, and watching the transformation from broken and badly injured to becoming healthier and stronger. Yes, there have been setbacks, and the path has been an unconventional one, for both of us. But the road less traveled often is the one where more knowledge and deeper experiences are gained. Anything is possible now, including outcomes that I dearly wish will not happen.
But even if what I think I see happening now turns out to be a mirage or proves unable to attain fully, it has not been wasted effort. I have become closer to the God of my understanding, and I know I have made a tremendous, lasting positive difference in the life of someone I have grown to love. And there doesn't need to be a specific end result for the journey to be worth undertaking. Of course I am hoping for Happily Ever After; who doesn't?
But "happily ever after" only comes one day at a time. And the days, at the moment, have been good ones, manageable, hopeful, and pleasant. And that's all I can reasonably hope for.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Atmosphere of Recovery?

Since I don't have to work on Friday nights anymore, the possibility to attend a meeting on that night is open to me again. The main Friday night NA group was my home group for six years, and a lot of my friends and people I know still are a part of it. So last night, I decided to go back for the first time in a few months, and see what it was like. And remembered, within twenty minutes, why I had stopped going.
The first issue is that the meeting space is entirely inadequate for a meeting of this size. I know that several home group members have been actively seeking a new meeting place, and I'm not positive, but I think a move to another, larger place is on the calendar for the near future. But for now, it's seriously uncomfortable in there. I got there fifteen minutes before the meeting started, and all the actual chairs were gone; I ended up sitting on a trunk, and spent the time I was there more or less squatting, which was a contributing factor to my discomfort. I'm nearly 54 years old, in relatively good shape in many ways, but my knees hurt after an hour of sitting essentially in a catcher's position. And the room that the meeting is held in is stiflingly hot in the best of circumstances, and it was last night, too. Again, with a large crowd in a small room, that's somewhat unavoidable, but it didn't make it any easier to sit through.
But there were other things that were not conducive to hearing a message, too. This is kind of endemic to any meeting, but it's more noticeable in that place--but people need to sit down and stay sat down after the meeting starts. I've seen less movement in crowds between innings at baseball games. We literally could not go more than 30 seconds without two or three people on their feet, and only a small minority were heading for the coffee pot. And the cross talk was distracting as hell. I'm aware that most of us engage in it, and I'm not a Nazi about it like some people are. But 1) grown men and women should be capable of whispering, and 2) if there need to be more than a few sentences exchanged, get up and go outside, especially in a tiny, packed room. And then there was an almost-amusing vignette, when someone reading out of the literature, giving the meeting the night's topic, stopped reading because of a conversation (one guy was giving another flyers for an event) going on behind her--which was highly ironic, because at the Saturday night meeting last week, the reader had gone on talking for a few minutes after the bell signifying five minutes sounded and justified her "need to share," while sitting at a table where there was considerable cross-talking during much of the meeting when she wasn't talking and where somebody (she insists it wasn't her) fired up a vape in a meeting place where vaping is not allowed,  and it is clearly stated in the secretary's report at the beginning of the meeting that vaping is not allowed. One of the guys talking behind her last night is a member of that home group, and he was absolutely floored by the hypocrisy, so much so that when I finally left, he was outside the meeting, still fuming about the apparent double standard. And I can't say I blame him.
Then there was the usual mix--of sharing that I have trouble identifying with, running commentary on the proceedings by someone there, someone trying to be helpful that was more distracting than helpful, and the presence of a few people that I don't like or respect in the best of circumstances.
And I got to thinking about a conversation I had with Lauren a few weeks ago, and the meetings and types of meetings she wants to start attending--and stay away from--when she comes home.  And about halfway through the meeting, I decided that I wasn't going to get anything out of this meeting, and I might as well check out an AA meeting I had heard good things about, held, in a development that a lot of NA members that refuse to rein in their behaviors ought to take more to heart, at the former home of the NA candlelight meeting, a place that the candlelight met for years that easily handled the crowds, and a meeting place we lost because the membership repeatedly refused to take care of that place like the church asked. There is no way that I will be going to the NA meeting after she comes home, so my thought was that I might as well see if this AA meeting is one we can attend regularly after she comes home.
I didn't make it to the end of the AA meeting, either. It was partly because I was unfamiliar with the literature being discussed and the format being used (NA does not have individual members dissect a text and talk on it like a speaker meeting, at least in this area). But it was mostly because, even in a cavernous meeting space, the cross talk and secondary conversations there were even worse, if that was possible, than at the NA meeting. If it had not been my first time there, I would have told the two guys nearby to shut the hell up; they were talking in normal tones of voice while the meeting was going on. Maybe the lesson is that addict behavior is the same no matter what we choose to identify ourselves as.
But I met with my sponsor yesterday morning, who has been around as long as anyone else in this area has, and cross talk came up in the conversation there, too. The group I just joined is even more crowded, in a smaller space, than last night's meeting is--but the cross talk issue is almost negligible. Why? Because it's addressed when it happens. Home group members take the initiative, and tell people that they need to take it outside if they insist on talking. And guess what? No one gets mad and stalks away, and no one boycotts the meeting because of it, and fifty people get to hear a message of recovery instead of the latest drama in a couple members' lives.
We're not animals, and we're not toddlers. There is no reason that people can't sit still and be respectful and quiet for 45 to 60 minutes at a time. There's no reason that people put their goddamn egos aside and observe guidelines established by those holding the meeting and the facilities that house us. None of us are perfect--but a lot of us are consistent and persistent offenders, and it's gotten really annoying and distracting. And the end result is, we lose people, and we lose respect in the community, and our options for carrying the message become more limited.
We need to get a grip on this, as a fellowship and as individuals.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Things I'll Never Take For Granted About Work Again

Moving back to day (with some early evening) hours has been, even after just four days, a blessing that can be barely described. It wasn't because the old job was horrible, either; I liked the environment and the people there, it was just hard physically. But this is better. And here are a few reasons why:
1) When I send an email to someone, there is a reasonable expectation of not having to wait at least a full day before there is a reply. This drove me crazy, to be honest. The first thing I did, and do, when I get to my desk is check emails--and if there was something important there, or if something came up that I needed an answer to, it would be an entire day before I could get a reply. This week, I was getting answers within minutes. Quite a (positive) difference.
2) I am not chained to my desk. Where I was, since I was the only staff there, I could have been notified by the police that my house had burned down and I would have had to stay where I was until someone came to relieve me. Here, if I need to leave, I can go. Here, if I want to drive or even walk down to the gas station two blocks away, I can. If I'm not feeling good physically, I don't have to stick it out to the end of my shift. If I've accumulated enough hours for the week, I can leave the office an hour earlier than normal--like I did yesterday. The freedom to do that is indescribable.
3) I can dress like a professional again. Technically, I could dress any way I wanted at the old job, too, but with the amount of cleaning of the house that was part of the job description, I was not going to wear anything other than casual comfort clothing--in practice, either shorts in the summer or sweats in the winter, with tees and flannel shirts and the like. It was nice this week to actually go through my closet and wear the decent clothes that I used to wear at my old job.
4) The temptation to graze for the length of the entire work day is not there. At the home, between the abundance of options and the fact that I was the only person awake for much of the shift, it was hard not to eat during the shift. I think, in fact, that of the nine-plus months I worked there, I didn't eat while I was there on maybe three occasions, and for at least one of them, I was so sick I shouldn't have been there. This week, I have brought food from home to eat for lunch--and that's been it, except for one day when a kid someone was working with made brownies, and politeness required that I partake (it's hard to mess up brownies, and the kid didn't).
5) Talking to other adults during work hours. I share an office with three other people (not at the same time; two of them generally work second shift hours). The one that is there most often when I am lives about two blocks away from me, as it turns out, and although there is a significant age difference and gender gap, we get along fine. And I have been surprised to find out that a number of people that work for the program are also middle-aged men, and the other program that shares our floor is staffed almost entirely by men and women in their thirties and forties. It's a group of grown-ups, in other words; residential tends to be staffed by the younger set.
6) Using a laptop at work. There was one "staff computer" at my former job; there were two others, in the supervisor's and social worker's offices, but I didn't have keys to their office (6a--one key opens all doors for everyone that works for the program. I thought it was ridiculous, at the old job, that only certain staff had keys to the linen closet, and other staff to the closet where hygiene supplies were, and yet others had keys to the electronic room in the basement. For the kids living there, it was very frustrating, and when it was brought up at staff meetings, we were told it was just a fact of life there). All computers were desktops, which might be marginally more powerful--but you need to use the big keyboard with them. I've had a laptop at home for years now, and I felt like a stroke victim trying to regain motor function every time I used the computer at the work home, because my hands are so used to a laptop keyboard. Even simply emails took a lot longer than they should have, because my spelling was atrocious on a regular keyboard.
7) Even though I decided against taking it, there was an option to have an agency cell phone. I ended up not taking it because the ones offered are primitive--they work fine as phones, but there is no separate texting keypad, and I'm just not going to do that at this stage in my life, especially since even clients and families that live out in the middle of nowhere have figured out that texting works in areas where phone service is spotty at best.
8) There is an entire fleet of agency vehicles available to use. The van I drove yesterday was, despite having eighty thousand miles on it, exponentially nicer than the van at the group home. The car I rode in earlier in the week wasn't as nice--but it was a car. The option to use my own vehicle is often present, as well.
9) There is paperwork. I realize that this would not be a positive for many, but honestly, paperwork for me is both what I am good at and tangible evidence that I am actually making a difference because there is a record of what I am doing.
And 10) Not having to fight off sleep for the second half of every damn day I was working. And I am free of the stress of figuring out when I am going to be able to grab some sleep in the 14 hours before I had to show up to work again. If there was something that had to be done during the daytime hours of my former work week, I had to shoehorn sleep hours into the time frame--and invariably I would lay in bed thinking to myself, "I'm not falling asleep." That simply does not happen now.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Moving Along

Today marks the end of my first week at the new job. I have to do some respite work with some youth as a part of my new job, and since all of them are in school of one sort or another, you almost have to work on one of the weekend days. I don't really mind, especially since the day I'm going to be working is going to be Sunday. And the nine hours I worked this Sunday concluding my assignment to my former job counts as part of this week. And I am having cause to remember one of the minor frustrations of working with youth and their families; they have lives and obligations, too, and sometimes are not available when it would be convenient for me. I'm not stressing it, though; as the weeks roll by, and the new routines become established, I am sure I will look back with nostalgia at this week, when the most pressing concerns I had were reading case files and waiting on people to call me back.
And other areas of my life seem to be in sync and moving forward, too. The comfortable routine I have established for meeting attendance has, thus far, not needed to be altered. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was asked to sponsor someone again, and that happened last night; Dave has a number of years clean and is looking for some guidance in life on life's terms matters more than putting it down, and historically those are the type of recovering addicts that I both appeal to and that I end up working well with for a long time. When Aldo and I talked the other night, we agreed to make an effort to stay in better touch, and I realized just how much I have missed his regular presence in my life. I am meeting my sponsor for breakfast tomorrow. My good friend Anthony is opening a new meeting next week in Endwell, a locale that sorely needs one, on a day I usually don't go to meetings, and I will at least check it out.
Sabrina's heard from the justice system on her ticket; it's going to cost more than I'd rather pay for her to continue to drive, but if there was one thing I learned during the week we were waiting on the title to her car, it's that I have no desire to return to the time before she could drive; I will pay the fines and she will partially reimburse me as her job hours allow. Hopefully the lessons have been learned. The worst of the mono is over for her, but she still tires very easily; we caught a break that this week is the week for winter Regents testing in New York, and that she hasn't missed more classes than she has. She is going to attempt to go to a track meet this weekend, out in Houghton, and while the expectations aren't great, she will at least be back in competition before sectionals and state qualifiers. And--knock on wood--the fire seems to have died regarding the boyfriend she had. I think he just took her for granted once too often.
And this Saturday is a Lauren day. I have one more visitation weekend after this upcoming one, and she will be home in less than four weeks. I am growing both more excited and more wary; I have seen a number of people, male and female, who are returning to society after being away struggling like hell, and several are already back in jail. I don't anticipate problems of that nature, but it is going to be an adjustment. But it also could turn out to be the beginning of something spectacular, and I am choosing to focus on that aspect of it all.
And after so much uncertainty and a lot of storms in the past year to year-and-a-half, it's a bit of a relief to stop, look around, and say to myself, "things are under control and going relatively smoothly." I got through some difficult times without descending into wholesale unmanageability. It's more proof, as if I needed it, that the way of life I have consciously striven to follow for many years is the path I need to be on. It's odd, but I was sitting in the meeting last night, and for about the fifth time this year, I listened to the topic for the day and thought, "I've gone through this in the past, but today I really don't have much to say about it." And that actually is a pretty good feeling, when you're not consumed with the need to share at a meeting because all sorts of crap is raining down on you. And sitting there quietly allows you to focus more on what others are saying, and sometimes I hear some pretty profound things, too.
It isn't always going to be like this. I've learned to enjoy these periods, because if there is one constant in life, it's that it changes unexpectedly without notice. But right now, it's a good life, and I can't tell you how enjoyable it is to be trying to wake fully up at 6 AM on a Thursday morning instead of struggling to stay awake because I've been up for 24 hours and at work all night. And no matter what happens that eventually breaks the spell, that isn't going to change.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Some Thoughts On Why Some Stay Clean, and Many Don't

I spent an hour hanging out with my former sponsor last night. We've stayed good friends, even close friends, for years, but for various reasons, we haven't really just sat down and hung out in a long time. But he came over to help me install my new television (which I can already tell is going to be among the best $120 purchases I've ever made) and stayed for a while, And as usual, our talk strayed to the most obvious thing we have in common, and the nature of the disease of addiction that continues to flow through our area. He crossed a quarter-century last year, and I have eighteen, and he reminisced for a short while about the days when both of us were much younger in recovery, then lamented how few people seem to really put together significant clean time, compared to the numbers that attempt to get and stay clean. And then he asked, very seriously, why I thought some people seem to make it without having to relapse multiple times and waste years of their lives in the peculiar limbo of being not quite in recovery but not hitting rock bottom in addiction, either.
My first response was something I noticed in my own early recovery, when I was still with MOTY and realized that she had little long-term hope of staying clean. For many that put together time, recovery is a process of rehabilitation, of getting back to or starting to seriously attempt to live by values and an ethical system that we have been exposed to and at least partially absorbed, but had gotten away from as the drug use took off. For others, the recovery process is one of habilitation; it is a thorough, radical change of lifestyle, values, and practices from what they have been exposed to and living by for the length of their lives. And it is much, much harder for those in the second group to put together and maintain clean time. We both were in the former group--his father was a hard-ass, rigid military man, but did have an iron code of morals and ethics, while my father, who had questionable ethics when it came to making money, also was quite openly generous and devoted to his family, among other virtues.
But many that have attempted to recover come from backgrounds that are dystopian Darwinian survival pits. The values that are intrinsic to a 12-Step program are largely or completely alien to them, and it is much, much harder to learn and apply new concepts as an adult than it is when we are children--this is why education takes place when we are immature and young, after all. It's not impossible, and some people have managed it. But it is exponentially more difficult to do so.
But there are other factors in play, as well. It may seem like relapse is much more common now than it was fifteen or twenty years ago--but that's also because the sheer number of people that attempt recovery is much larger, too. And the salient point is that most people that put together long stretches of clean time, and/or stay clean for the duration of their lives, get clean for the last time in their thirties. In my own case, one of the moments of clarity for me was sitting around playing cards one night at Boca House, with three other guys in my general age group, and all of us ruefully admitting that our lives were half-over and we had nothing to show for it but a pile of rubble. It was rather jarring to realize that I was almost 36 years old and had done nothing of lasting importance other then reproduce three times. It wasn't a magic potion that drove me ever onward and forward from that point--but it did kill the illusion that there was any real benefit to living the way I had been living the previous few years, and that returning to using was merely going to be more spinning of the wheels with the possibility of never escaping very real.
And relapse seems more prevalent now mostly because the average age of the person attempting recovery has dropped dramatically. The rooms are now full of people in their twenties and even a few teens, people who have not wasted half their life yet, people who frankly have not exhausted themselves for decades, people who simply are not convinced that they cannot use safely again. In some ways, it's encouraging; people are catching more severe consequences earlier in life, and thus are getting exposed to the thing that can possibly save their lives earlier in that life. But only in some ways--the culture of the rooms has changed to where it is viewed, much more than it was in the past, as a way station, as a pit stop, as temporary. I'm not sure that there is a way this can be avoided, but it is real.
There's a factor peculiar to this area, too, that I've written about before: the malign presence of the Messagemaster for many years, and more specifically the 4-5 year stretch in the early years of this century where his influence and reach was vast and mostly unchecked. We have a missing generation of clean time; there is almost nobody with 8 to 12 years around here right now, and you will never convince me that his ubiquity at that time is not the primary reason why. The message being carried around here at that time was empty; the values and principles being passed down and "worked" were toxic; the atmosphere in the fellowship was poisonous; and the collective group conscience of the area was subordinated to the ego of one individual. I lived through it, and it is hard to overestimate how difficult it was to continue to be an active part of the fellowship at that time if you were not part of The Tribe. And though that period eventually came to an end, it took its toll. There are very few clean dates in this area from 2004 to 2008.
And one last factor in the prevalence of clean time is another thing with deep roots that has found greater exposure now. I noticed within a couple of years of being in the rooms that our literature may be correct when it speaks of it making no difference between drugs. For the purpose of a recovery program, this is true, But our various drugs of choice have differing effects on people physically, and different personality types are drawn to different narcotics--the true "garbagehead" was and still is a relatively rare animal. And I figured out before I had two years clean that a good majority of the people that had clean time at that time were former crackheads--or put another way, those whose drug of choice was heroin (and alcohol, for that matter, even though most who were addicted to alcohol ended up in AA) never seemed to be completely out of the woods, never seemed to reach a point where one could say that the desire to use had been completely and permanently banished. And yes, I realize that we are all subject to using no matter how many years we have been clean, and I'm not really disputing that. What I am saying is that for whatever reasons, those whose drug of choice was cocaine (and, as time has passed, crystal meth) tend to reach a bottom much lower and harsher than users of other drugs, and that when they are done, they are done. With heroin, that doesn't seem to be the case, and now that there are so many more opiates out there that affect the user physically in similar ways, this tendency is even more obvious. I've been assured by both opiate addicts in the rooms and the medical community that the physical effect of opiate addiction is much more pronounced and works differently than with coke and other drugs, that neural pathways and brain chemistry gets altered in ways crack never affects. Or, to put it bluntly, opiate addicts report that they don't feel "normal" for a long, long time, and perhaps ever again, that the body will continue to crave opiates long after users of other drugs have put cravings behind them. And with so many people in the rooms now with opiate histories--well, relapse is going to seem more prevalent than it used to.
And different kinds of people tend to be drawn to different drugs. I have only used two opiates in my life, both times prescription painkillers for brief periods, and honestly, they did nothing for me. The second knocked me out for four hours, and I remember writing at the time that I didn't really understand the appeal of opiates; if I'm going to get high, I want to awake and aware during it. While simplistic, it's also real--most of us that used coke and meth tend to be Type A personalities, less mellow and less apt to be part of the crowd. Opiate users tend to be more quiet and introspective, and more looking for a way to blend into the background. It's a generalization, and there are exceptions on both sides. There are also some that use both, although it has been my experience that those that do use both tended to be stimulant abusers first who turned to opiates to bring them down from their highs sooner and more smoothly, and then found themselves on an elevator whose doors would not open. But the generalization has a lot of truth to it.
I'm not a scientist, and I'm sure there might be other factors I'm missing. I also don't mean to imply that, somehow, crackheads have it easier or that they are somehow "better" than users of other drugs. But it is a reality that once someone whose drug of choice was crack or meth gets to three or four years clean, they almost always stay clean for the duration. With opiate addicts, that simply is not the case. And the relapse rates around here, at least, seem to be so high because there are many more drug addicts around than there used to be, and the vast majority of them use opiates of one form or another.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One Big Change Already

When I settled into the night shift job nine-plus months ago, it took me a while to figure out a fundamental issue with it, one that I never really was able to resolve. In all the time that I worked with runaway/homeless youth, I very rarely disliked actually working with any actual youth. Most of them were good kids caught up in bad circumstances, and I can only think of three, off the top of my head, that I thought at the time they were part of the program that they bore the lion's share of the responsibility for their predicament. Three, out of several hundred, is a minuscule percentage, and as a result, when I was working directly with RHY, I felt a sense of purpose and direction that I rarely have felt in any other area or at any other time of my life. So much so, in fact, that I kind of burned out, not because I was tired of the kids I worked with, but because I was tired of seeing so many jerky parents, so many hopeless situations, and so many kids that were damaged beyond any repair that they were likely able to be accessing. There were the occasional success stories, and they still sustain me somewhat to this day.
I progressively lost touch with the clientele the last five years I ran the program, becoming more of a management/administrator, to the point where I couldn't tell you what the kids we admitted to the program looked like, if they hadn't come from the Johnson City school district (to ensure that we continued to get funding from a particular source, I had to work with Johnson City kids). I was thinking the other day, when I saw a name on Facebook, about a kid that was part of our program for over a year--and I wouldn't know her if she walked through the door. And in retrospect, this disconnect from the youth the program served was one reason why we eventually lost funding--simply, I lost the level of deep passion that I had the first decade of working with those kids. I wrote a serviceable grant proposal, technically sound--but the brief references to personal stories and the direct positive benefit we provided for some youth that are often sprinkled through successful grant proposals were missing from the 2015 effort, because I had had such little contact with actual youth the program served over the previous three years.
When I started working the night shift job, there was direct contact with a house full of youths every time I went to work. But the connections I made never quite approached the levels that marked my old job. Part of it was that an ideal workday entailed most of them going to bed, sleeping soundly, and getting up for school without an issue. And part of it was that unlike the program I ran, I was not supposed to do much in the area of direct care with the youth there. I wasn't supposed to talk with them about their issues, I certainly was not in any way supposed to contact service providers or work with parents on their issues. There were other staff and workers whose job that was; I was more or less someone that kept the environment safe and secure, but had very little to do with the actual living of their lives.
And put another way, the only way I had substantial contact with most of them was if they were having problems--AWOLing, acting up in the house, engaging in behavior that they should not engage in. And the result of that was that I never really developed any close bonds with any of the kids that were part of the residence. And while I am not going to say I grew to dislike any of them--I never lost sight of the fact that all of them were where they were and are because of difficult circumstances in their lives--there were some that I disliked dealing with. The end result was that I began to regard a good night on the job as a quiet one, nights when everyone was in bed or at least in their rooms when I arrived and never emerged until it was time to go home. And while the physical toll of working nights four times a week is the primary reason I was looking to move to another position, it wasn't the only one. I missed meaningful interaction with youth that I am in contact with as a part of my job. Or put more bluntly, I want to feel like I make a difference, like I am actually helping a young person in some way deal with their challenging situations.
And it took one day at the new position to for that positive feeling to return. One kid that is going to be on my caseload is a young boy, in the third grade. I looked over his file for a couple of hours yesterday, and he has some issues. And my two hours with him yesterday are not going to permanently change those issues. But he responded well to me, and a lot of the problem behaviors that I was reading about were nowhere to be seen during my time with him, It wasn't all me, to be sure; I was with another staff, and we engaged in activities he likes.
But I found myself a little sorry that the time with him was coming to an end. And I haven't felt like that in a long time. One of the things that was a sign that the passion had ebbed away in my former job was that I was barely working 40 hours a week. When I was doing direct care, hands-on with youth, there were many, many weeks where I was putting in 45 to 55 hours--and I honestly didn't care, because I felt like I was making a difference. I felt that spark, that sense of purpose and fulfillment, for a time yesterday, and if that is going to return regularly, then I know I will have made the right choice in switching programs. It's still early, of course, and probably not every kid I work with is going to respond as positively as this kid did yesterday.
But what yesterday served to remind me of was that despite the talents I showed as an administrator/manager--I built my professional reputation on the ability I showed to reach and make a positive difference with the youth I worked with. And there was a part of me that feared that that part of me had atrophied away, that it was gone forever and that it had been a by-product of raising my own kids at the same time. And in retrospect (I've been gone from there less than 48 hours, and I'm already talking about "in retrospect?" I crack myself up sometimes), my former position's biggest disappointment was that I never felt like I really, truly reached any of the kids there. I was in direct care again, but the atrophy never abated--and I believe that on some level, I was terribly disappointed and disillusioned. It wasn't a bad job, by any means, but it also wasn't what I wanted and on some level needed to lift my own spirits, to feel like I enjoyed going to work. And obviously, it's too early to say that this position is going to provide that all day every day.
But it was a good start.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Next Chapter

This morning, I officially start my new job. I wish I had one more day off between the old one and the new; I definitely am very, very tired and could have used a day of R&R today, but on the other hand, it will be good to have a weekend off this weekend. I'm not totally sure what this week is going to bring, either; I've been told it's going to be a little paperwork and a lot of case file reading for a few days, and in a week or so I will start picking up my case load.
This week the hours are going to be more or less 9 to 5; the flexible part of the schedule will kick in as the case load picks up. It will be a bit of an adjustment this week, for us and for the dog, but I would rather it happened now, several weeks before Lauren comes home, then while she is trying to get acclimate, like what happened in April when I first started working for the agency. Between orientation and getting used to working nights, it was a factor in the problems that arose between us then; I should be more or less in the new groove in four weeks.
I don't know necessarily how I feel today, other than tired. In the long term, I am sure I will be happier; as much as the night shift job had its advantages, it was still night shift with the attendant physical toll, and the prospects for advancement seemed rather limited. I will be forever grateful to the staff there; it was a good place to work. Most of the kids I worked with there were a pleasure to be around, and those that weren't--well, I have to remember who I work for, and that every kid in the program is in it because of some trauma or issue.
But this job is going to be more challenging and more interesting, I believe. And it will be undoubtedly be better for me to come home to at night. My normal work day, once cases are established, is probably going to be something more along the lines of 10 to 6, and it can broken up as needs to be--which is the type of job I had at Berkshire for a long time, and one I frankly do better with. The people that I am going to be working with all appear to be good people, too. There's a little bit of concern, I guess, that's normal when you start any new job. But I am sure it is due to unfamiliarity rather than any fear that it's going to suck or that I can't do the job.
I just hope the fact that I forgot to set the automatic start for the coffee pot this morning is not a harbinger of what kind of day it's going to be. But the fact that I am going to be able to start every day with a pot of coffee, rather than spend three or four mornings a week trying to get a few hours of sleep, is already a bonus.
And I am glad I work for an outfit where so many different programs and types of jobs exist, where one can move around to jobs that are substantially different and not have to go through the hassle of actually changing employers. A campus-based job is going to be much different than community residential, and looking ahead five years, it's the type of broad-based experience that helps move up in the agency. But that's for the future.
Today, I just want to get a day under my belt, and then come home at the end of the day and go to bed in the evening. And then do it again, and again, and again. The reality of the change won't take, in a positive sense, until Wednesday night, when instead of trudging into work at 10:30 PM, I will be settling into bed with the dog at my feet to go to sleep. And that is going to be the moment when I know beyond doubt that the decision to change jobs will have been worth it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Review: BUSH

In the week that the second witless Republican President of the twenty-first century was ushered into office, by coincidence I happened to pick a new biography of the first from the public library. I know his partisans are not going to think so, but Jean Edward Smith (who is a man, to my surprise) has put together what I thought was a relatively fair and balanced portrait of the man who, by time he left office, was regarded as one of the worst Presidents to ever sit in the White House.
I was one of them. And still am, if only because he did so much damage while he was in office. But I used to think he was a moron, an absolute intellectual dolt that stumbled into the White House with no real idea of what he was doing and nothing to recommend him other than his name. After reading this, Smith convinced me that he was and is not really a moron, in the sense that he is not stupid. What he is, is close-minded--one of those people that cannot be reasoned with once his mind his made up, and precious little went into his decisions that he wasn't already inclined to believe.
And that is where his Presidency, and the nation he led, foundered. Smith makes a decent enough case that some of what Bush wanted to do in the beginning--the tax cuts and educational reform--weren't harebrained ideas. No Child Left Behind, in particular, was hailed at the beginning as an innovative and necessary breakthrough; few foresaw what a disaster it was going to be. And a lot of how Bush was as President was born out of his experience as Texas governor; that post in Texas is largely ceremonial and doesn't require much of its occupant other than making decisions about courses of action already decided upon by the legislature. Bush was notorious for being "The Decider." To someone from New York, this seems simplistic and stupid. But to someone from Texas, that's how executives govern
The problem with that for Bush was that he surrounded himself with those that already thought like him, and was extremely reluctant to consider information that did not fit his existing notions. And this book makes it clear that most of the charges leveled against Bush are true. He came into office quite open about ousting Saddam Hussein at some point, and was searching for links between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq from the time the towers fell to the ground. He ignored people that differed with his ideas about the entire "war on terror"--almost everyone in the world, at some point, including many that I and other progressives have labelled villains for years (Donald Rumsfeld is the most prominent example; behind the scenes, he warned of what was going to happen in Iraq before it happened, every single development that surprised the other Bushies. But he was too much of a team player to openly disagree with policy once decided). To the bitter end, he still would not admit that his reasoning was wrong, and that every expectation he had about Iraq was wrong, and that the Iraqis might have other ideas about what was best for them than Bush did.
What is so frustrating about the war on terror, with its centerpiece in Iraq, is that on virtually every other issue while he was President, he wasn't so stubborn and hard-headed and close-minded. Yes, most of his ideas were wrong--but he jumped off the horses relatively quickly, and the author makes a very convincing case that Bush casting ideology aside to intervene forcefully in the 2008 financial crisis left Obama something to salvage, that as bad it was, it could have been a lot worse. And we are left to ponder why the Iraq war and the war on terror in general were such worms in the brain of Bush. The answer is one that is hard to credit in a grown man--but it is demonstrably true.
Bush's being a born-again was no secret. But his determination to fight in the Middle East came down to the fact that he believed that by doing so, he was bringing the end times closer--when attempting to get Russia to buy into the need for war, he told Putin that it was about "Gog and Magog," a famous passage from Revelation that is nonsense, but that every Left Behind nitwit believes with the certitude that only the religious zealot can muster. This mindset informed every decision, every thought Bush had about Iraq and the war of terror, and why it was so good vs. evil for him.
It's a frightening thought to contemplate. And no wonder Putin intervened in this election; he must think that all Republicans are easily-led-astray boobs, and he can be forgiven for thinking so. He can be forgiven much more easily, in fact, then we can forgive Bush. We are less safe, less secure, and less well off than we were when he took office, by a wide margin. His blunders will echo and resonate and extract a price for decades to come. And to find that we did it because he believes in religious fairy tales angers me to no end. He might not be the absolute worst President ever--but the general opprobrium he is held in is richly deserved, and he ruined not only my country, but a lot of the world with his obstinacy and lack of adaption to reality.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things I Thought About Today

I guess something vaguely political happened in Washington, DC, today. I can't work myself into total outrage--not yet, anyway, not until he's started to fuck things up royally and the yahoos gloating over their "victory" over blah people, libturds, and other fake targets start to feel a little more uncomfortable with the red, white, and blue penis being stuffed up their nether regions. I got home from work a little before nine, fed the dog, and went to bed until early afternoon, and thus missed the historic moment.
And didn't miss anything. My day was full enough as it was. I have several friends that are going through various stages of romantic travail. I spent a good portion of the evening corresponding with them, and sharing various aspects of my long experience with failed relationships. To sum up, there is something to be said for exercising patience, and sometimes fear is a legitimate reason for someone to hold back on committing. But the failure to communicate, the holding another person's heart hostage, is never OK, and there is no excuse for it. All snark aside, I've learned over the years that not every problem gets solved if the parties communicate with each other, but no problem ever gets solved without it. Taking a step back for an hour or a day is one thing, but maintaining silence for a week or more is not only bullshit, but is a manifestation of cruelty, somewhat abusive, and definitely an indicator that the person imposing the silence really does not care for the other party for their own sake. Many years ago, Aldo told me, when I was struggling to find reasons to stay with Sabrina's mother, "look, if you have bone cancer in your arm and you know it, and amputation is going to be required, would you do it a couple inches at a time? Of course not. If you know it's not healthy and only going to get worse, and if you know that any relief is likely to be temporary--just end it and save yourself a lot of chronic pain." And time has proven that he could not have been more right.
I also found myself thinking today about my own turn that's coming up in a few weeks. Of course I am looking forward to my honey coming home--and in this case, it means home, as she will be living with me for an indefinite period of time. One of the factors in her problems over the past few years has been having to take apartments in lousy parts of town because the shelters she has been discharged to give you 30 days to find a place. That's not going to happen this time. And with my moving off nights to another position, the hours after curfew are not going to be the problem they have been in the past, too. But along with the good points comes a little bit of trepidation, too. Obviously, we believe we are compatible, or it wouldn't have gotten to this point. And I am really sure that she is done, at least for now, and that there will be no problems with a compromised living space. But it is a leap into the unknown. I have not lived with a woman for over 15 years now, and she has not lived with anyone for five, and has only lived with someone once in her life, for a few months. You never know... I found myself tearing up when I was walking the dog this afternoon. After all the hopes, all the dreams, all the disappointments, all the worries--it's finally going to happen. You're a real boy now, Pinocchio. The happy ending is in reach--but so, honestly, is a crash-and-burn. And there's no way of knowing until we actually start moving forward.
The imminent change of jobs is also on my mind. I hate working third shift, in the middle of the work week. I don't mind it so much during the three days off that I had. And working further from home, five days instead of four, is going to be a change in routine. It will be great to get up at 5-6 AM and have coffee every morning. It will be nice to go to bed at night, especially with Lauren with me. But it's a change, and the human mind is not comfortable with any change. I have the rest of tonight and tomorrow night, and then it's over. A couple of kids are on home visits, and it's possible I'm never going to see them again. It's a strange feeling.
And lastly, I got to do one of my favorite things tonight--pontificate on the state of the fellowship. Someone asked me why I wasn't at the evening meeting, and I said I haven't been going because I try to sleep before I go in, but also because I hadn't been getting a lot out of this meeting recently. It's not a knock on the meeting itself; it was my home group for six years. But comfort matters more to me as I get older, and fifty people crammed into that meeting space isn't ideal for me. Neither are speaker meetings, which tonight's was, and I didn't even have to be there to know I would've chafed under the collar being there. I really don't care for non-local speakers; I grew up in recovery in the heyday of the Messagemaster, and I know all too well that a real glib spoken message is meaningless if it is coupled with a foul life when no one is looking. And the speaker was apparently a woman from Syracuse--and the next woman that speaks at a meeting that's from Syracuse or Rochester that isn't loud and profane that I hear will be the first one, in eighteen years. People really ought to be told, often and strongly, that dropping f-bombs liberally and loudly does not somehow give your message more credence or make it more profound. As a matter of fact, I find it distracting and uncomfortable when a grown woman can't tell her story without 873 variations of "motherfuck" and at decibel levels that are more appropriate for an auditorium. That's actually one of my pet peeves--loud does not equal profound, not even close. It's attention-seeking, at best, and a form of intimidation at worst. But I seem to be a distinct minority on this subject, and so, rather than try to buck the tide, I generally avoid speaker meetings, especially when I know that they are coming in from out of town. It's not worth stirring up my agita. 
Which is why I didn't pay attention to the news today, too. I think I keep hoping that if I ignore him, he'll go away? I know he isn't, but I'm not going to join the chorus at this point. Let the others draw the heavy artillery fire. I'll come in later, after the first battles are over with.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review: CITY OF DREAMS

I was excited about the prospect of reading Tyler Andbinder's City of Dreams. It is billed as the story of 400 years of immigrants making their way in New York City, and since my paternal grandparents were 1907 arrivals at Ellis Island, at the height of Italian immigration to the United States, I was hoping to learn more about the world they arrived at. There is a great deal of information in this book about many interesting subjects that are a part of the immigrant story, from the time it was New Amsterdam (I did not know that the English originally seized it in the 1630's, but handed it back for a time) to my lifetime. I know a lot more about the Tammany years, the divisions caused by the Revolutionary War, the draft riots of the Civil War, the Gilded Age, and the effect of tightened immigration laws of the post World War I era. I learned more than I wanted or needed to know about ethnic enclaves on Manhattan. I learned a bunch of little tidbits that I did not know about politics and society at particular times and places--for instance, what Ellis Island was really like, how much immigrants were preyed upon, how many immigrants returned to home countries, that those put to work in the WPA of the 30's were paid rather poorly so that the projects wouldn't undercut private employers that were hiring, and that Staten Island has never had any appreciable numbers of immigrants.
What I didn't find out was much of anything about the immigrant experience in the outer boroughs. I know my father grew up in a substantial Italian enclave in Canarsie, in Brooklyn, and Canarsie was not once mentioned in a book of nearly 500 pages. I saw nothing of the folk history passed down to me of the conflict between the Irish-dominated police force and the Italian neighborhoods during the first half of the twentieth century. I saw nothing that seemed to reflect my family's experiences.
That doesn't make it a bad book. Just a disappointing one.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not Sure How I Feel

There was an interesting development today. I do not glory or gloat over the misfortunes of others, especially those that are in the throes of addiction. On the other hand, while I am better at forgiving and at tolerating those that I find it impossible to fully forgive, there's a part of me that, if not quite enjoys, cracks a smile when karma comes calling. And today, karma came calling for the McHale Experience.
I don't know what happened, and I don't anticipate knowing. All I know is that three weeks after the Experience came back from state prison, she is back behind bars tonight. She talks so much and tells so many untruths and lies that I doubt she remembers having this conversation with me--but the first place my mine went today was her snide remarks regarding someone else getting violated after being home 23 days. It's funny how karma works that way, isn't it?
The saddest thing about the Experience is that underneath the grime and the shadiness, there is a sparkling personality, someone very intelligent and vivacious, someone who can look quite attractive when she wants to. It's really frustrating, after you get to know her, that she devotes so much time to lying and then covering up the lies and dishonesty; the level of ingenuity she displays in that endeavor would undoubtedly lead to success in just about anything else she chose to do, if only she would pursue it.
But she doesn't. I reactivated the block on her number when she came home, and I blocked her on Facebook, too; I just don't have anything to say to her, and want nothing to do with her. And I knew that what happened today was going to eventually happen; as smart as she is, she isn't so smart as to be able to get away with getting high all the time and fooling parole. And I'm not even going to waste my breath in saying, "Maybe this is what she needs; maybe this will prove to be the last straw." The other fellowship is much more realistic on this subject than Narcotics Anonymous is, and the Experience is one of those "unfortunates" that is "constitutionally incapable of honesty."
I feel bad for a few people that she had enticed into her orbit. I feel bad for the guy that was "taking care" of her when she was in county jail and after she went away to Bedford: I escaped with only having taken a mental beating; this poor guy lost a pile of money he didn't have to lose to her. I also feel bad for her latest hostage; the Experience swings in both directions, but seems, fling with me notwithstanding, to prefer the company of her own gender these days, and she latched onto yet another poor soul in prison that is convinced that the Experience is a gift from heaven. That person was distraught on social media today; I can only hope that the pain is fleeting and that healing takes place quickly, as it did for me.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. The Experience has sold herself  the illusion that her life story is so messed up that she must get high to get through her waking hours. And she almost took herself out three times this summer, and I am wondering if it has happened again since she got home from prison after Christmas. And that's perhaps the most unfortunate part of this all; she really enjoys, gets a rush from, nearly dying in an overdose. I prefer less dangerous ways to impart meaning to my life, and to find enjoyment in somewhat mundane pursuits. But then, I enjoy life, have for years, and have become very comfortable with who and what I am in recent years. She's not going to do what is necessary to get to that point; she doesn't have the willingness, and believes, deep down, that there is no way she can stop feeling what she feels.
There may not be. But I don't know why you wouldn't at least try. And that's the essential difference between us. I stopped indulging and wallowing in pain that justified my using, and worked instead on discovering what was causing it, and taking positive action to counter it, a process that led me to a belief in God that has allowed me to not only put the past behind me, but has allowed me to handle all sorts of new calamities. It can happen for her, too, and she is smart enough to know that it can happen for her, too.
She doesn't want to. Period. I can't fathom acting on that degree of self-centerdness, of that much self-absorption, these days. My spirit is too awake now to do that to my kids, my family, and my friends. And one of my character defects that remains strong is a tendency to not offer support and encouragement to those that have taken advantage of me when I have done so in the past. And few took more liberties with my better nature than the Experience. Jail isn't a bad place for her right now; she won't be killing herself and her children will not be motherless.
Except that they are.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Where the Neighborhood Ends and the 'Hood Starts

Since the dog was added to our family, one feature of every day, weather permitting, has been the walk of the dog. He goes outside several times a day, but since we don't have an enclosed yard anymore, and he's a mid-to-large sized dog with a pretty good appetite, he needs to go on at least one fairly long walk a day. Since I've gotten serious about losing weight, this meshes perfectly with my wishes, as well, and so for a couple of months now, we have been traveling the streets of the West Side every day where the temperature hasn't been seriously cold.
Especially since I got him a vest, the dog actually doesn't mind when it's cold, and he positively loves snow (not so much salt on sidewalks and roads; it stings the paws of dogs like a brain freeze affects humans' heads. I really wish people wouldn't use it, and that those that feel they must used it a little less liberally). What he doesn't like, especially being short-haired, is rain--he will shake like he is having convulsions if it is a steady rain and refuse to go beyond the neighbor's yard before heading back in, and in sprinkly weather, any time I pause when we're walking, he turns around and starts trotting in the direction of home. I normally walk him either when I first get home from work or in the afternoon, but yesterday, since it was raining pretty hard at those times, it was 7 at night before the weather and my available time complemented each other enough to walk him.
I try to vary the routes up every day, going in different directions and trying to add another street or block to the route from the last time we went that way. Yesterday, I was planning on taking in another block of the area between West End Avenue and Cleveland Street, specifically turning off West End at Garfield to traverse the long block to Cleveland, then go down that street to Division Street and come back to West End. I never knew, until a few weeks ago, that Binghamton has a number of streets named after Presidents. I've lived here nearly ten years, and Harrison is the cross street closest to my house, and I was dimly aware of Cleveland because it ends close to the softball field where Sabrina has been playing games for over a decade. But I didn't know of Garfield and Grant until last month, and it also has dawned on me that the first street on the Johnson City side of the municipal border probably was once part of Binghamton, because it's Lincoln Street. And while I'm on this digression, I really, really wish that municipalities would not use the same name twice for thoroughfares. The street two blocks away is named Park Street--and there is a very long thoroughfare called Park Avenue on the South Side. One of the side streets off Garfield is Grant Street--and there is a Grant Avenue on the East Side. There is also Rugby Road and Rugby Place, and Florence Street and Florence Avenue, on the West Side, too.
But anyway, last night, as I turned the corner from Floral onto West End, I remembered something I had forgotten; the guy that used to live upstairs had been mugged on this section of West End a couple of years ago after dark. I wasn't scared, and I know if I were up to no good, I wouldn't be likely to mess with someone with a decent-sized dog on a leash. But I did start to pay more attention to the surroundings than I had been. And almost immediately, as we approached Garfield, I saw a young man walking up West End from the other direction turn onto Garfield, as well. We were still six or seven houses away from the intersection, so I wasn't all that concerned at first. When we got to Garfield, I saw the kid. He was walking down the middle of the street, and was still about five houses ahead of us, even though he was definitely walking slower than he had been on West End.
And here comes another digression. One of my pet peeves is when people walk in the street when there are sidewalks on that street. In inclement weather, I can understand it, to a degree; there a lot of properties where, for whatever reasons, the sidewalk doesn't get shoveled, and on most streets in Binghamton, there are stretches where the sidewalks are cracked or unlevel, and as a result there is quite a bit of puddling, occasionally quite deep. That was my first thought--that there must have been some serious puddles on the sidewalk. And then I noticed something else: there were two functioning streetlights for the length of the entire street, which is probably 150 to 200 yards long. Two. It wasn't exactly well-lit in the middle of the street, but it was considerably brighter than the sidewalks were. So I figured the kid was just exercising common sense, and Wimmer and I started walking down the middle of the street, too. I still wasn't concerned.
Until I noticed, halfway down the street, that we were catching up, that the kid had slowed almost to a crawl. I really couldn't come up with a good reason why that would be the case, and so I slowed the dog down, too, and shortened the leash. The kid eventually moseyed his way to the intersection with Cleveland, and turned, slowly, to the left--in other words, in the direction that he had been coming from on West End. I thought this was very odd; I suppose that there are a few explanations that could account for that, but it didn't pass the immediate logic test. That was the direction I had been planning on going, but I saw when we got to the intersection that he was barely moving forward in that direction, and that made up my mind. Now thoroughly suspicious, but still not all that concerned, I just figured we would turn right and go back to Floral and go back home that way, especially since the rain had picked up some and the dog was becoming unhappier with walking.
And after we had walked about halfway to Floral, I glanced over my shoulder--and I was shocked to see that the kid was now walking in our direction, about three houses behind us, and at a normal or faster walking speed. I briefly thought about stopping and confronting him--and then realized that Cleveland was even more poorly lit than Garfield had been. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and decided to hurry the dog up and get to Floral. Which I did, and we turned right. It was a longer distance than I wanted it to be before we would reach the gas station at the corner of Floral and West End, but I hustled the dog along, and made it quite obvious that I was looking over my shoulder every house we passed. The kid kept pace, and turned in our direction on Floral; in fact he was gaining on us until he nearly slipped and fell on his ass on a slick lawn he was sidestepping a puddle on. We finally reached the well-lit gas station--at which point the kid, about two houses behind, suddenly crossed the street and disappeared down Carhart Avenue.
I walked back up Floral a block to Grand Boulevard, and went down to my street and then home. And I had never really noticed before--but walking on those streets is like walking in a lit-up house compared to the level of light on the other side of West End. It's really, really noticeable, if you're looking for it. Obviously, someone in the City planning departments has made that decision, and it's easy to speculate why--the area roughly bordered by Grand Boulevard, West End Avenue, the river, and Kneeland/Schiller Streets is one of the two nice, moneyed neighborhoods left in Binghamton (and actually, you can extend that area to the streets on either side of Riverside well past Rec Park, too; imagine a Nebraska shape, and you wouldn't be too far off) , not quite as nice as the area of the South Side between General Hospital and the Vestal line, but close. I imagine it's lit well because there's more tempting targets for potential thieves, and that the area is filled with people that vote and expect the city government to be responsive to their concerns. Don't get me wrong; I"m not complaining about living in within that area.
But I was really shocked by how apparent the difference was, and how abruptly the aura and the ambiance changed. The little bit I knew of that side of West End has been limited to area around the softball field, and my memory is that the part of the neighborhood around the park is as nice or nicer than mine. But it's also a good five or six blocks from where I was last night, and it's not the same atmosphere, not even close. Some day if I'm feeling ambitious, I might do some research as to where the actual border is--I would guess Stokes Avenue all the down to Margaret, which is the city line with Johnson City, but I don't know that for certain. Maybe it's Division Street, and maybe the street has that name because it's been the unofficial border for a long time now.
And those borders change as time passes. My active addiction ended less than two decades ago--and at that time, the area of Binghamton between Main and Leroy that was east of Laurel Avenue was definitely not part of the "bad" part of town, and today most certainly is. The early years of the runaway/homeless program I used to run, there was a real difference between the areas of the South Side of Johnson City divided by Floral Avenue--and now, that difference has quite visibly eroded. When those of my generation of recovery were starting to find their way in the "real" world, almost all of us found apartments and houses on the South Side of Binghamton; around the turn of the century, the entire South Side was still middle class. Now, as I mentioned, the areas close to the river are not, and the lines of "good" neighborhood south of Vestal Avenue/Evans Street are shifting eastward almost by the month.
And I have no illusions about where I live, either. My street is overwhelmingly geriatric. In twenty years, this part of the neighborhood will look nothing like it does now. In fact, demographically it has already started changing. When I first moved here in 2007, this entire street was populated by Caucasians. There are now African-Americans and Asian-Americans dotted through the immediate blocks, and the apartment buildings on Schubert Street are almost all populated by students from the university--mostly Asian and Caribbean, from what I can tell. So far, the quality of life around here has not dipped at all, and it may actually improve some in the immediate future because some of the older people that have departed in recent years really weren't keeping their properties up like they once did.
But not likely. I am thinking of two properties in particular, two house down on either side of me. Both have had young Caucasian families move in, one three years ago and one this past fall, And neither one of them is even remotely interested in taking care of the property the way the previous residents were. One apparently doesn't own a shovel or a rake; the leaves from his many trees are still all over his yard, and the only way snow has been removed from his sidewalks and driveway this year is by melting. It's a couple, too, that have to be in their late 20's or early '30's; they are capable of doing it, they just don't. And there isn't a lot the rest of us can do about the lack of interest in taking care of the property. It doesn't have to look like a magazine cover, but for God's sake, it doesn't have to look like an abandoned property, either.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mononucleosis

My daughter has not been feeling well for a couple of weeks now--actually, since around Christmas. She's stayed home from school a couple of times, left early a few other days, and hasn't been terribly energetic any of the time. She's been managing to go to track practice and participated in a couple of meets, but hasn't been herself, and she's been dropping weight. Last night, she finally went to the walk-in, and discovered that she has mononucleosis.
The doctor's note said that if she is fever-free, she can go to school if she feels up to it, but she is not to do track or softball workouts on the weekend for two weeks. This morning, she doesn't feel up to it, and I can't say I blame her. I'm not personally concerned too much, despite how contagious mono can be, because I've had it, back in 1996. And hers has been caught early enough, I hope, that she doesn't end up suffering like I did. My tonsils got so swollen that I had to go into the hospital for four days, because I could not sleep if I laid down because my airway in my throat was so constricted. I think I must have caught a concurrent bacterial infection, because I was on a penicillin drip for three days until the tonsil swelling went down (I still have my tonsils, by the way; they wouldn't remove them because they were so swollen, and then after they returned to normal size, they told me there was no reason to take them out. The logic of that reasoning escaped me then and now).
But that's not what I remember about my bout with mono. It was the fatigue. For weeks afterward, even after I returned to work, my energy level was sapped. I would go to work in the morning, and be fine for several hours--and then suddenly grow so tired that I had to rest or sleep, like a toddler that runs out of gas when he sits still for two minutes. I almost drove off the road a couple of times because I was falling asleep at the wheel on the way home.And to make matters even dicier, I contracted mono while my then-wife was six months pregnant with Jessica. It was not a good time to be a just-turned-two Rachel; I had no energy and her mother was waddling around seriously pregnant. By time delivery day came, I was back to about 95% of normal--but those late spring/early summer months were not good.
And my mono had an indirect role in the direction my life soon took. I had snorted cocaine more or less recreationally for nearly fifteen years at that point; there were some episodes of unmanageability and some physical issues (I remember a very frank conversation with my doctor when she checked out my nasal passages as part of dealing with the throat miseries, and I wonder to this day whether some of the refusal to remove the tonsils was either as a punishment or a safety measure because of the awful state of my sinuses), but I had not been indulging a whole lot for a few years before the mono hit. But I was so tired so much of the time, especially after Jessica was born and the house was in the sort of sleep deprivation mode that occurs when there is a newborn, that I began, surreptitiously, to use it more often at first, and then, after it was proving impractical to do lines around the house, I eventually was introduced to and began to smoke crack. And that's when the train started to go off the tracks...No, mono was not the cause of my addiction. But it was a factor.
I don't think that's a risk factor here. I don't know if Sabrina has never indulged in anything, but I am totally certain that she does not do drugs of any kind on a regular basis. I'm more worried about the disruption it is going to cause her academically and with track. If it had to happen, I suppose this was as good a time as any; there is Regents and other testing for four days next week, so she isn't going to miss as much class time as she otherwise might have, should her illness linger. And my bet is going to be that it does; it was getting worse up until yesterday, and my memory is that the symptomatic part of the illness lasted two or three weeks before I ended up in the hospital. I don't think it's going to last that long for her; she's younger and healthier, went to the doctor a lot sooner than I did, and isn't going to have to do as much while sick as I did at the time I had it.
But it's a pain in the butt for her, and I feel bad for her. We just went to Best Buy yesterday and bought a TV for her. I was planning on finally dumping Time Warner yesterday--but when I got on the phone with both DirecTV and Dish, their advertised special prices were so loaded with conditions and fees that I would have ended up paying as much or more than I can get with Time Warner. I'm going to talk to my friend that works for Time Warner tonight, and hopefully we can get something set up for an upgrade here by the end of this week. Between Sabrina being sick and Lauren coming here to live for a while when she comes home, more and better TV is--not quite a necessity, but both of them are much more into television than I am. I'm paying almost a hundred dollars a month for (mostly dependable, despite my occasional bitching) Internet and five freaking TV channels. If I can get decent cable for thirty dollars or so more a month, and keep the other two people living here happy, I might as well go for it. And Sabrina will be able to take her TV with her when she goes to college in the fall (I got a new one for the living room, too, and Lauren has one already that is here with the rest of her belongings), no matter where she goes.
But she has to get through this first. She hasn't slept well; she woke me up at midnight to tell me I was snoring badly, and I've been hearing her since I got up an hour-plus ago. But she is going to be more or less bed-ridden for the next day or three, and with some chamomile, Motrin, and Gatorade, she should be able to manage reasonably well. But I feel bad for her; it's not fun to have a Life Altering Event occur in the middle of your senior year in high school, another subject I can relate strongly to. Fortunately, it's something that will extract a small cost and then be done with--and she won't have to worry about contracting mono ever again.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Few Thoughts On The NFL Playoffs

While NFL ratings are down this year, and there are some signs that the peak of pro football's popularity may have passed, you'd never know it around here. My own fan demographic, those that follow the Bills, moved past "long-suffering" ages ago, and now tend to compete with one another in "Can you top this?" moments and insights--after all, ineptitude of this magnitude is historic, and we are in a perverse way almost privileged to see it. There is a fairly substantial Bills fan base around here, too; geographically, they are the closest team to Binghamton. But this is still overwhelmingly Giants country, and with that team returning to the playoffs after a five-year absence this year, there did seem to be more-than-usual interest in the NFL season. But in addition to the Bills, there are still small-but-vocal groups of the three teams with the most devoted national followings--the Steelers, Packers,and Cowboys--that were also in the playoffs this year, and there are also enclaves of Patriots and Eagles fans around here, too, along with the usual front-runner types that have discovered their inner Bronco and Seahawk leanings in recent years. So there is a lot of football talk on social media and in general conversation. The Giants were one-and-done this year, and the Cowboys lost yesterday to the Packers, but the Steelers, Patriots, and Packers are three of the four teams left, and so it will likely lead to more interest than usual right up to the Super Bowl.
And of course, I have some thoughts:
1) The Giants' exit was dominated by that fascinating combination of all-world talent and remarkably abrasiveness and sense of entitlement, Odell Beckham, Jr. Beckham caught a lot of flak before the game, when he and a number of his teammates flew to Miami on the Giants' off day and had a blast with celebrities on a party boat. And as much as I don't care for Beckham, I find myself leaning in his direction on this one. What anybody--anybody--does on their days off is their own business. Pro football players are not "normal" employees, either; their job is physically taxing beyond comprehension, the mental pressure is unlike anything anyone in the usual employment world is ever going to face, and their professional life span is measure in years, not decades. Beckham and his friends, by all accounts, were at work when they were supposed to be on Tuesday morning, and although the Giants lost, their performance in the first half of the Packers game puts the lie to the notion that the team was "unprepared" or "unfocused." The Giants thoroughly outplayed the Packers for 25 minutes, but only led 6-0, and that is the reason that the game was lost.
This happens every year in the playoffs, often more than once. You can't march up and down the field against another top-shelf football team, and come away with field goals or turn the ball over. You have to go for the jugular. The Packers-Cowboys game illustrated this perfectly; the Packers did everything right in the first half, led by 18 points at one juncture--and still needed a field goal as time ran out to win. And the inability to put teams away was something that plagued the Giants all year, and Beckham, as much of a lightning rod as he is, is certainly not the reason the Giants did not win. Giant fans don't really want to hear it, but their biggest liability is behind center. Eli Manning, whatever he has been during his career, is not a top-level quarterback anymore. That's not a real knock; he's 36 years old and has had a real good (I'm not going to call it "great"; he's been good enough to be in a position to be very fortunate, and there have been far too many times when Manning has hurt his team to call him "great") career, but the best is in the past, and he's not capable of beating three or four good teams in a row anymore. And the Hail Mary at the end of the first half was a stomach punch; you could just see the air go out of the Giants. Beckham's boat trip has zero to do with the loss. Zero. If you don't like Beckham because his personality is excessively self-absorbed, because of his immaturity, and because he tends to lose focus on the field when the going gets tough, that's legit--but you don't have to make shit up to buttress your feelings. And a sure way for a franchise to lose its way for years at a time is to start blaming their best players for the team's shortcomings. The Giants need a better offensive line, better quarterback, and better running backs to become a true Super Bowl contender. And if you want to look at the receiving corps closely, Victor Cruz is clearly not the same player he was four or five years ago, and they need a better tight end than what they have. Beckham, as much of a dick as he appears to be, is not the problem there, not even close, and wouldn't be if he spent his off-days trolling Bangkok's red-light district.
2) I know Derek Carr, according to the media, is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and I guess it was sort of heartwarming to see the Raiders return to the playoffs after a 14-year absence (actually, that's another long-dormant fan base that is starting to become visible again). But am I the only one that saw the Houston-Oakland game and thought, "How the hell did this team win 12 games?" That team on the field was awful, Carr or no Carr. I will make a bet with anyone right now that the Raiders will be fortunate to win as many as they lose next year.
3) I saw the Dolphins play a few times on television this year, and I know that they are better than they showed against the Steelers. It looked to me like they were simply overawed a little by being in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh is better than they are, regular season result notwithstanding. But the game did show off one other thing that is a must for playoff success: the biggest reason that teams lose games, playoff or regular season, is when defensive players in a position to make them miss tackles. When you are playing against some of the best offensive talent in the game, you have to bring them down when you first make contact with them. If you don't, you lose.
4) I have never, ever liked the Detroit Lions, dating back to the early 1970's and my time as a Vikings fan. And this is another team that was very fortunate to be in the post-season this year, and has very little chance to return there this year.
5) Houston is an interesting team. This is about as good as a team can be without an NFL-level quarterback on the roster, and they were as successful as they were this year with the best player in the NFL absent for the last 13 games. It doesn't look like there is a top-quality quarterback available to them in the draft, either. But I'm going to say this: if Tony Romo ends up on this team next year, they are quite possibly Super Bowl material, especially if Watt comes back and plays like Watt.
6) Kansas City is another interesting team. What has happened here is that history is repeating itself. Andy Reid built a perennial contender that couldn't get over the hump in Philadelphia, and this team is playing out to be this decades's version of those teams. And it isn't obvious what the final ingredient needs to be; the team doesn't have an obvious weakness. I guess that you can start to look behind center there, too; Alex Smith isn't horrible, but he isn't going to get any better and he's not top-shelf. I suppose that if circumstances broke right, he might win a championship; after all, Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer have Super Bowl rings. But you can't bet on that.
7) The Seahawks' moment has passed. It was always hard to reconcile their excellence with the idea that Pete Carroll was the architect of a winner; too many of us remember Carroll as the limited coach of the Jets and Patriots. And while I normally shy away from the notion of sports-as-morality-plays--I have grown to HATE this team. The sad part is, the way this team is set up, I was prepared to love them. I played defense when I played football when I was young, and I don't like the way the game has evolved, with all the pass-happy offense and the rules changes and the way that hitting someone hard has been legislated out of the game. This team was built on its defense, and they play it hard and well.
But, God, they are a bunch of assholes. So much so that I've actually gotten to tolerate Richard Sherman as the years pass; for all that he runs his mouth, he backs it up with his play, he plays clean, and when he gets beat, he isn't all about complaining and jackass behavior. But some of the others--wow. Michael Bennett is a borderline psychopath; I will not be in the least surprised if he ends up the next high-profile player in a domestic violence case, and he is by far the most likely candidate to be the next Aaron Hernandez. This is the shithead that started the fight at the end of the Patriots' Super Bowl win, and his outright threatening a reporter with violence in the post-game press conference was revolting. Earl Thomas' bitching about Tom Brady after the loss (to Atlanta, I might add, not New England) was childish and makes one wonder what in the hell actually goes in those people's minds. He's not there anymore, but Marshawn Lynch was an even bigger jackass than those two. This is a team where there were a lot of resentments aimed at their own young, Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Yes, they won one ring and nearly won another. But you can't help feeling that if they were a little more focused on football and less on perceived slights and the attention they didn't get, they would have been a dynasty. That defense had Steel Curtain-potential for multi-year dominance, and only one ring seems so underachieving considering how much talent there was there.
8) Finally, the last of the losers thus far, the Dallas Cowboys. I'm not a Cowboy fan, although I don't have the white-hot hatred that a lot of Giant fans seem to have for them. But I don't see much to hate on this team. They play to the best of their ability, and--gasp--they do what they do with some class. There isn't a lot of woofing going on. There isn't the preening for the cameras. They actually seem likable. It was just two years ago that the Cowboys lost another playoff heartbreaker to the Packers. Two years ago, Dez Bryant was the story, with the catch-or-no-catch and all that, but almost lost in the magnificent game he played that day was the talking and posturing and carrying on after the whistle and the constantly looking for penalties after each ball he didn't catch. Dez Bryant had another great game yesterday--but as the game progressed, I realized something: all that nonsense was absent. Bryant handed the ball to the ref after each catch and went back to the huddle. After the touchdown that brought the Cowboys to within two, he actually waved teammates off to not celebrate, recognizing that the team needed to go for two points, and went back and huddled up. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a transformation in two years' time...I've written about Bryant a few times over the years, about how what a difficult life he has had and how it was unrealistic for fans and others to expect him to act like a mature, reasonable, composed adult from the time he donned a Cowboy uniform. But what I saw yesterday tells me that Bryant, late as it might have come, has matured. Maybe his series of injuries last year and this made him realize that his career could end at any moment; maybe it's just the normal maturation process; maybe he fell in love; maybe it was any of a hundred possible other things, or more likely some combination of all of them.
But whatever it was, I was impressed. And I'm happy for Dez Bryant, in a way that I would not be happy for almost any other player. It could have fell apart for him so easily, and yet he seems to have survived and thrived, and his future still seems to be very bright. And whatever else there is to not like about the man, I think Jerry Jones deserves some credit for sticking with Bryant and allowing him the need and room to grow up. Many other teams would have decided that Bryant was just too much of a headache and sent him packing or drove him to such an unhappy place that his play suffered. That didn't happen, and his transformation is a reminder that ultimately, the game isn't about teams or monoliths or large-scale issues. It's played by human beings, and when human beings triumph, we all do. I still am not a Cowboy fan, but their loss yesterday was with dignity and class, and didn't fill me with animalistic delight like the defeat of the Seahawks did the day before. And on the whole, I would rather feel the way I did yesterday than the way I did Saturday.