Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

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Tiny Cultural Collisions

I just returned home from the largest of the annual ophthalmology meetings. At these gatherings I see my professional friends, and some 35,000 or so of us descend upon whatever city we are visiting. We bring all manner of customs and culture along with us, there to collide with those of the locals. Here is what I wrote about this a few years ago, still relevant today.

It takes very little effort to observe the intersection of cultural norms. Indeed, it takes a substantial effort NOT to notice them when they collide, as they must, in the polyglot that is the United States. Physicians, it’s been noted, are little more than paid observers; I see these collisions daily. What are we to do when cultures collide?

Now, I’m not talking about the “old as eternity” cultural divide between teenagers and their parents; in the end the teens will either hew closely to the cultural norms of their heritage or fall more in line with those of their present address. What I am interested in are those cultural norms that remain an integral part of the fully formed adult one might encounter in a rather typical day, and by extension whether and how one should respond to any cultural dissonance. Or for that matter, WHO should be the one to respond.

It’s the tiny ones that catch my attention. Personal space for example. The typical American personal space extends one arm length between individuals. Something shorter than a handshake, more like a handshake distance with bent elbows. The Mediterranean space involves an elbow, too: put your hand on your shoulder and point your elbow to the front and you have measured the personal space of a Sicilian. Asians on the other hand occupy a much larger personal space that can be loosely measured by a fully extended fist-bump. Something which would be anathema in polite Japanese company, but no matter.

My favorite little example of the variety of cultural norms that swirl in the soup of the great Melting Pot is the affectionate greeting. You know, what most fully acclimatized Americans would recognize as the “bro hug” shoulder bump and clasp, something that would be appalling to a Parisian or Persian, or indeed even to a Princess of the Antebellum South. Yet even here there are differences. The Princess, joined by legions of Housewives of Wherever and Junior Leaguers everywhere are ninjas in the practice of the single-cheek air kiss. It should be noted that ~90% of men are NOT ninjas in this particular art, and are expected by its practitioners to bungle the act.

Persians and Parisians, on the other hand, find the one-cheek air kiss to accomplish only half the job. They, and others who share centuries old cultures, warmly greet each other with a two-cheek kiss. I am sure that there are nuances involved here that remain unseen and unknown to both most men and certainly most (all?) who don’t share the heritage. (As an aside let me just say that I am a huge fan of this particular cultural norm because it means that two of my very favorite colleagues, Neda and Carol, always arrive bearing TWO kisses).

So what’s the point here? Two, I think. First, there is a certain boorishness in the failure to observe and recognize the existence of these cultural norms when they are encountered. Some, like those I’ve mentioned, are the relative equivalent of a soft breeze, neither strong enough to fill a sail nor de-leaf a tree. Recognizing them, even in the tiny manner that one tries not to trample on them even if they will be ignored, is a tiny gesture of kindness, respect, and courtesy.

The flip side, number two, is deciding which of these norms is the default setting. Here things get a bit stickier, especially when cultural norms run afoul of SOP on the particular ground they occupy. Think air kiss in Afghanistan, for example. Bowing in the boardroom of Samsung in San Clemente. There are more, and bigger examples, but you get the idea. Here I think geography holds the trump card: “when in Rome” should be your guide, especially with cultural norms where the collision may be substantially more impactful than whether or when you turn the other cheek, a tornado to the above tickling breeze.

Perhaps we could all agree on the two-cheek greeting thing.

In Memoriam: Abby, the Wonder Dog

In Memoriam: Abby the Wonder Dog

This morning I was awakened by a text from Beth: “Call when you can.” That’s almost never good, and today was no exception. My beautiful, brilliant dog Abby had died. A tumor was wrapped around a major artery; there was nothing to do but comfort and love her after the artery burst. She died in her Mamma’s arms as my son Randy gently stroked her head.

May I tell you her story?

My older boy, Dan, shared an apartment with two friends and a very cool Border Collie named Dakota. When Tommy and Megan moved on Dakota went with them, leaving a hole in Dan’s heart that could only be filled by another dog. Did you know that farmers in central Ohio who raise working dogs don’t always spay or neuter their packs? Neither did we. While I don’t know how extensive this next part is, at least some of the pups that are not needed to work the farms are simply turned out onto the land to fend for themselves. It’s enough of a thing that there is an animal rescue in Tiffin, Ohio dedicated solely to these “extras” from the litters.

Abby and her sister were feral for the first 6 months of their lives. After being live-trapped they were brought to the Border Collie/Australian Shepherd rescue where Dan somehow discovered Abby’s picture. There must have been 3 dozen dogs in crates and running in outdoor pens when we arrived to see if they would let us adopt one. It was funny. We had to audition for the staff. They brought out 6 or 7 other dogs to see how we would handle them before finally bringing Abby out of her crate.

Abby, who promptly came right over and climbed simultaneously into Dan’s lap and all of our hearts.

Herding dogs like Abby, part Border Collie and part Aussie, are rightly famous for their intellect and their energy. Having one of these without a farm to run them is a special kind of crazy. As a college junior Dan’s apartment was hardly expansive enough to contain her energy. Was it boredom or anxiety that prompted her to tear the carpet in the apartment and eat down through the subfloor while he was in class? She never said, but shortly after her “redecorating” she came for her first extended stay with Mom and Dad.

We had quite the little pack, Beth and I. Haddie our English Setter was like Nana in “Peter Pan”, mothering dogs, children, and adults alike. Tiny Tim arrived looking more than a bit like a Beanie Baby, so tiny and fragile, velcroed to Beth’s side. And then Abby arrived, all energy and curiosity and mischief. Even with her canine buddies there was still something about being without her people that made her crazy. Nothing on a counter or in a closet was safe from her when we were out.

I’ve told most of these stories before. Like the time she ate about $200 in petty cash from the office. Pretty interesting poops in the backyard after that as you can imagine. The very best one was when she “ate my homework”. We’d gone out to dinner and apparently I didn’t put my surgical sheets for the next day’s cases far enough back on the counter. If that’s all it was I could have run up to the office and simply run off new copies. Nope. As it turned out I was also transporting a couple of special order lens implants from one surgery center to another. Implants for which one of my patients had paid about $1500. Oh yeah, Abby ate those, too. That was a pretty weird phone call, telling my patient why I was cancelling their surgery at 9:00 PM the night before. The OR staff still talks about that one.

Abby never really lost a kind of wariness around new people. It was there with all of us (except Dan) at the rescue and remained after she came to live with Beth and me while Dan was doing lots of traveling as he completed his studies. There’s a lovely fellow who worked for the boys at their gym who Abby never warmed to; he sent us a very nice condolence in which he shared that this had always made him sad. Beth and I had just one worry, that she would be skittish around little ones like grandchildren. No worries there. I will forever see her lying close to her newest littlest people, totally unperturbed as they tumbled on top on her in their travels.

Or the tiny little “drive-by” kisses, soft little licks she gave Landon or Lila or McKenna on her way by. Yes, those…those I will see through my tears forever.

Abby loved us from the minute she chose Dan right up until she died. The last thing she saw on this earth was her people Mom, Beth, and her little brother Randy. I’m still not sure if it was better to be away or not. All I know is that I loved my dog, and that the very last thing I did when I left the house last week before my travels began was to reach down, scratch her ears and tell her. For all of my sorrow I wouldn’t trade our years together for anything.

Fair winds on this last journey Abby, your sails full with the winds of my love. I did so love being your person.

Musings on When a Game Became “The Game”

Here is an update to an essay from a couple of years ago. I read it today, on a Saturday afternoon, when I will once again not be watching football.

 

Randy texted me about the exciting finish to the ND NCAA football game. Dan called and asked if I was watching the Browns. It made me smile. Not the result, not even the topic, but the excitement. A parent is only as happy as his least happy kid, and at those moments two of my kids was very happy. My sons football playing days are long behind them, but the game still brings them joy.

Me? Not so much.

Oh sure, there was a time when football never seemed to be any lower on my list of wonderful things than 2 or 3. I was a medium-sized fish in a puddle as a high school football player, but I didn’t have the game out of my system when I graduated. Accepted at one Ivy League school and waitlisted at another, I turned down both because I was too small to have any chance of playing football at that level. Instead I went to a very old, very small school and played a bit all 4 years. Now done as a player I was nonetheless still enthralled by all other things football.

Many of my closest friends were met on the freshly cut football fields of my youth. Wins and losses followed on those fields, most of which I’ve long forgotten. Indeed, I’ve written before that it is only the losses I remember, especially those that resulted from some personal failure in a game. A fumble, perhaps, or a blown coverage. And yet there is no escaping the fact that those countless hours at practice, in the locker room, and on the field are in large part responsible for who I am, the adult I’ve become.

It’s a powerful thing, football. The game itself is exhilarating to both play and watch. At least, it was. I find myself finding all kinds of reasons not to watch football games now. Not consciously finding “big picture” reasons so much as tiny reasons, like Beth wants me to tag along to the barn, or Abbie the world’s smartest (and most easily bored) dog would like an adventure kind of reasons. Football of all sorts played at any and all levels has sunken to a kind of triviality, easily trumped by a trip to the grocery store.

No one thing is responsible for this falling out of love, as it were. This fall is different from the last, and the one before only in that it is now glaringly obvious that football holds for me no essential attraction by itself. Looking back my only surprise is that it took me so long. Why didn’t I begin to turn away as my friend the ER doc buzzed through Dan’s shoulder pads with a saw in order to get him into the MRI? Or when I walked onto the field after Randy knocked himself out cold with a helmet-to helmet tackle to force a fourth down, his first concussion? I was still young, still sure that the game would bring my sons what I thought it had brought me.

I see them now, both of my boys, face down and immobile, and I shudder. I started to see them each time I saw a player go down in high school, or college, or the pros. I began to see that I valued those young men nearly as much as my own boys, and I started to notice that the game of football had become The Game. Those entrusted with The Game did not–do not–appear to share my feelings about the players.

The junior high coach carries the star running back to the bench, there to wrap the sprained ankle in the hope of returning him to the game. In a high school freshman game, a rout, the first string defense is still on the field in the fourth quarter, the opportunity to play in a game slipping away for kids who may never get another chance, when the starting safety goes down with a severed spine on a play he should have been watching from the sideline. What was the first string learning at that point in that game? Alumni and athletic directors and coaches at colleges noted for academic excellence openly opine that they cannot win without lowering the admission standards for football players, and just as openly run those kids off the team and out of their scholarships when they are no longer needed to win. The game in the NFL becomes more violent, with ever more gratuitous violence magnifying the carnage wreaked upon the bodies of the players. Ex-pros roam the earth as a kind of walking dead.

When did football become The Game? When did the keepers of the game become keepers of The Game? When did football players as young as high school become little more than a modern stand-in for gladiators thrown into the arena for little more than the amusement of the many and the benefit of a tiny protected few? I’d like to think that there was such a time, an inflection point, when it did change, but I fear it has been ever thus. If that is so then I, too, bear some responsibility for what The Game has become. I did not turn away, or turn my own sons away, at the time of my own dawning awareness that The Game and its keepers cared naught for our sons at all, but only for themselves and their respective place and privilege.

There was a time when my playing days were long over when I still found myself on edge as the weather chilled and the smell of cut grass filled the autumn air. It was time to get ready to play football. Those days are long past, and I find that I no longer even think about watching, indeed can no longer see myself watching, except as a vehicle with which I can channel the joy of a child. And that is perhaps why I can no longer watch a game whose keepers have lost sight of the fact that someone’s child plays in The Game.

One is left to wonder about the parents of those gladiators past.

Honeymoon Weekend #34: Sunday musings…9/1/19

Sunday musings…

1) Fly. A young climate activist sailed across the Atlantic rather than fly to a conference to prompt a discussion about the environmental cost of air travel. She hopes to encourage the “climate woke” to fly less.

Sorry. Any trip over 3 hours is torture for me. If it takes longer to drive, pedal, or sail I’m on a plane.

2) Nashville. Pretty cool little city ya got here, Tennessee. Myriad options for drinking and dining layered on top of a truly magnificent music scene. I know that’s no real news to pretty much anyone, but being here to experience it is a tiny revelation.

Shame about the outcome of the Georgia/Vandy game, but still…

3) Connected. The good news: I am able to see pretty much all of my clinical data from the office including notes and tests. The bad news: ditto. Friday was my first full day on our Annual Honeymoon (more in a minute); it was filled with texts and emails and calls about patient issues that were convenient for those not on vacation to have handled during a Friday work day. Unlike many “always on” businesses my staff is largely off on the weekends so I am now somewhat inoculated from contact in all but the most significant emergencies. Also, unlike so many people who cannot turn off their connections lest the boss reach out and their availability to her/him be measured, I am traveling with the boss.

She just has to tell me what she needs and when!

4) Small. As in small world. As crazy small as the world turns out to be without any real effort on my part, the tiniest of friendly gestures can make it downright tiny. When I was an active participant in the Crossfit community, especially in the early pre-2012 or so days, wearing a shirt from CrossFit.com or a Box I might have visited was a guaranteed conversation starter. Heck, I once had a pilot who saw my tee shirt ask to see the Games videos I had on my iPad; the flight attendant brought it up to him in the cockpit while we were in the air. All it took was a noticing what I was wearing and offering a brief, friendly comment or question.

I had one of those moments this morning in our Nashville hotel. A gentleman who looked about my age was wearing a Middlebury Lacrosse tee shirt and I asked him about it. Turns out his son was a 4-year teammate of my nephew, and the two sets of parents had become great friends. We could have chatted for a couple of hours if they didn’t have wedding activities to attend to.

Smaller world moments are only a smile and a friendly question away. They are worth the tiny risk of approaching a stranger.

5) Honeymoon. Beth and I are in Nashville for our 34th Annual Honeymoon trip. What a ride! Without a doubt our marriage is the single most important endeavor we’ve ever undertaken, and so far the most successful thing we’ve ever done. I wish I could tell you that we had a super detailed plan that we laid out and followed all those years ago, but really, there were only two really simple things we did starting in the very beginning. We agreed that we would always talk to one another about everything we were thinking and feeling. No simmering and stewing over whatever might bother us. And we bought into Beth’s brilliant observation that marriage is not a 50/50 proposition, but rather 100/100.

Each of us has committed 100% of who were are and what we have to our marriage.

What does that mean in practice? In the briefest possible explanation what that means is that even when considering something that is vitally important to you, be it your job or some passion you have for whatever, you stop to consider what your decisions mean for your partner. Are you one of those people for whom job and hobby are one and the same? Can’t wait to get to work? Spend all of your non-office time dreaming about your career? Or are you rather that freer spirited soul who works only so that you can walk some other path, one at which you can’t really make a living? No matter. 100/100 means that you consider the effects of your career or passion activity decisions on your partner and your partnership, in our case our marriage.

Of course, all of this requires a huge amount of honesty and generosity, with a healthy dollop of tenderness and empathy. It takes effort. Over time it may become a bit easier simply because you become that which you practice, but in the early years most of us need to learn how to look outward, to hear and see how our personal choices affect that one person with whom we are closest. How do you get there? Well, it certainly helps to be crazy in love, right?! Each time you choose your two over your own one you get a little bit better at understanding how powerful those tiny little gifts to the marriage become as they build over time.

We’ve each been committed to each other, to our marriage, 100%. Two is so much bigger than 1+1.

Musings on Home

Sunday musings…

1) Hero. Beth’s new horsey partner has finally arrived from Spain. Christened “Hortalano” but nicknamed “Hero” by the Man Cub (after Hiro, the protagonist in Big Hero 6), he is now home.

The latest actor in a long-running passion.

2) Drip. Street for “fashionable wear”. As in “LeBron was wearing crazy drip when he got off the bus.” Makes about as much sense as calling a high maintenance person “extra”.

3) Twee. Affectedly or excessively quaint, pretty, or sentimental. Never yet applied to any room decorated by Beth.

4) Bolt hole. A safe or restful place; one where you can hide from something unpleasant. Pretty much describes every place I’ve lived with Beth, especially Casa Blanco.

5) Home. What becomes of a place once it is no longer occupied by the people who made it a home? It is certainly changed. Can it remain home to those who are still there to make it one? Of course. Until, that is, it can’t.

My Gramp was so very smart in so many ways. He and Gamma could very well have stayed in the little ranch I remember as their home after my Aunt Barb went off to college. I’m pretty sure it was paid for, and it was certainly user friendly for a couple entering what we would now call middle age. But Gramp saw no advantage in the history of place, nor could he find a use for the extra room in even so small a dwelling once all three daughters had fledged the nest; he and Gamma decamped to a modest 2 bedroom apartment in Newark where he worked as the assistant superintendent for Newark schools.

They took along their living room furniture, and as luck would have it they also managed to take along (or had been taken along by) a few of their close friends at the time. Gamma and Gramp seemed to be about as social in Newark as they’d been in Glen Ridge. In all of my visits to their house I never remember any interaction with the neighborhood or the neighbors. In the Newark apartment it seemed that everyone knew my grandparents, and by extension, me.

In the late 60′s and early 70′s the great diaspora of retired north easterners to southeast Florida had begun. My two aunts had already moved to Miami, and Gamma and Gramp followed shortly after Gramp retired (the race riots in Newark prompted him to hang up his spurs at the earliest opportunity). I should note that in both Newark and Miami my grandparents became renters. Just another example of Gramp’s genius because neither they as a couple, nor Gamma as a widow, would be encumbered by place.

Like a spiritual tortoise, home would travel with them.

Gramp died when I was in high school. My memory of that time is kinda fuzzy. Maybe I was a junior. Gamma stayed in the King’s Creek apartment alone for at least a couple of years. She hosted my buddy Kid and me for a spring break visit during my freshman year in college. Her days seemed to be filled by time spent with friends in the apartment complex, usually centered around the pool. With two daughters and four  grandchildren only a few miles away she also had their activities to attend if she wanted to. I remember watching my cousins baseball games with my uncles and my Gramp. Did Gamma use their games (and Jenny’s tennis matches) to fill the hours of her days?

It’s been almost 4 years since my Dad died. Unlike Gramp there was so much of what constituted home for my Mom and Dad in the house where I was raised that they remained in place. Mom still lives there, moving through that big space like a ping pong ball in a gymnasium. With the exception of Thanksgiving and other family gatherings the house at 30 Kirkbrae Drive has been much too much for the 30 years it’s been since my youngest sister graduated from college, the last of the four of us to fledge. Mom and Dad stayed so long that home and place became one and the same for them.

After a couple of years alone in her apartment in Miami without Gramp Gamma either decided or was convinced that it was no longer home. Or at least that it wasn’t not enough home to stick around. My folks and my aunts were clearly on board because all three sisters built homes that had spaces ready for Gamma; she was welcomed into each of their homes for varying periods of each year, the specifics changing as she got older and the northern winters became more of a challenge. What changed for her? What had been there at King’s Creek in the first couple of years after Gramp died that was no longer there after a few years?

Or was it more that something had changed in Gamma herself? Even the tiniest of spaces can feel awfully empty when they aren’t really home. Without the rest of whoever made up “home” I imagine that the loneliness makes everything seem simply massive. And empty. The comfort of the familiar gets lost in the emptiness. When do you try to make that emptiness smaller? Gamma left in her late 60′s I think. Having already moved at least twice she simply moved with whatever she had left in her little tortoiseshell of home and began residing with her daughters and their families.

While we 8 grandchildren all considered her a part of our homes, I wonder now if Gamma ever really did feel at home in all those years lived without Gramp. Untethered to place she’d moved early at each stage. Probably not the first in any of her groups to do so but most definitely not the last. Blessed to have options she (and Gramp) seemed to grasp the reality that someone else would make decisions for them if they didn’t make them for themselves, even about something as fundamental as home.

There is certainly an aspect of place to home, but home is more than place. Leaving a place does not need to mean leaving home, or even leaving behind what made a particular place a good home. How do you know when it’s the right time to leave? Sadly I don’t think you ever really do. Gramp made moves which, looking back, seem to have been brilliant. Prescient. I think what you do realize all too often is that you probably stayed in place a bit longer than you should have. That the natural attachment to place that is part of the home equation has lasted longer than what really made that particular dwelling a home.

Home can be terribly difficult to leave unless we believe, like Gamma and Gramp, that home is not really where we dwell but where we live.

I’ll see you next week…

 

So: A Perfectly Good Word Tarnished by Abusive Overusive

Lake Superior State has published its annual list of forbidden words. Words that have been abused, misused, or simply overused to a breaking point. Number 1 on this year’s list? “So”.

Yup. “So” is the new “um”, “uh”, or “like”, as annoyingly overused as any of these, but all the more obnoxious because it is especially favored by the young talking heads of the consultative and pundit class. Seriously, whether I agree of disagree with an “expert’s” opinion I can hardly listen to NPR, CNN, FOX, or even the NFL Today. Every sentence begins with “so”. It’s as if there’s a clause in every contract mandating that you do so.

See what I did there? That’s part of what makes it all so frustrating (see, I did it again). “So” is a perfectly good word, one that has so many legitimate uses it’s nothing short of criminal that it has been captured and held hostage by an undisciplined intelligentsia and associated wannabes. Just as you don’t hear truly gifted speakers pepper their spoken thoughts with “uhh” and “um”(I never found 44 to be all that impressive as a speaker because of this), so, too, should we be spared an assault by this more pretentious verbal tic.

Here’s a resolution (see what I DIDN’T do there): I am giving an instant downgrade to the value of whatever is begin spoken by whomever whenever and wherever if he or she insists on beginning the majority of sentences or new thought threads with “so”. Even more so (Huh? Huh?), I’m thinking that it’s perfectly appropriate to simply tune out or turn off anything and anyone who does that. They all tend to be uber-plugged in to screens and tech and such, and if I did I’d probably have a ton more time to do stuff like read a book, or pet Abby the wonder dog, or get on the floor and build a wooden block castle with “The Man Cub.”

So there.

The Man in the Moon: Sunday musings…7/21/19

Sunday musings…

1) Battery. A group of barracudas is called a “battery”. Did not know that.

2) News. Starbucks, once the 3rd space for people of all sorts, especially those who enjoyed reading the day’s news over some sort of fancy brewed beverage, announced this week that they will no longer sell newspapers. This says much more about the state our local and national print media than it does about Starbucks. People young and old get what they consider the news from myriad sources, none of which require the harvesting of trees or setting of presses.

A disturbing bit of news, indeed.

3) Fly. Which do you prefer, take off or landing? Me, I’m a landing guy. Landing means I’ve arrived. I just can’t ever remember a flight where I was mesmerized by the experience of being in the air. Maybe that one time when we were flying in over the top of the 4th of July fireworks.
That was pretty cool, but of course we were on the landing approach at the time.

The journey is not really the thing for me when I am traveling unless the journey is actually the reason  I’m actually doing the traveling. I like to get to my destination, and frankly I like to get home.

Count me as a “landing” guy.

4) Mountain. “You climb the mountain to see the world; you don’t climb the mountain so that the world can see you.” -Anonymous (as far as I’ve been able to tell)

With the exception of first ascents of real mountains (where the whole idea is for people to see you on top), this is, or should be, quite obvious whether you are examining it literally or figuratively. There are so many worthwhile reasons to do so many things, aim for so many goals, that to do so simply for the adulation seems shallow.

How much more meaningful are the goals and their ultimate achievement when the drive comes from within you and not your audience.

5) Lunar. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. It’s been so long and we’ve talked about it for so many years knowing that Armstrong, Aldren, and Collins successfully pulled off the nearly unimaginable, it is hard for us looking back to imagine how much uncertainty there was during the Apollo 11 mission. From lift-off (there’d been an Apollo lift-off disaster that cost the lives of 3 astronauts) to the never before done landing and subsequent lift-off from the moon, some 500 million earthbound brothers and sisters of the astronauts held their collective breath again and again only to exhale in exaltation as each challenge was met.

There were so many ways things could have gone wrong, any one of which would have meant certain doom for some or all of the men aloft. Imagine the sorrow had Armstrong and Aldren failed to make it back from the moon. The possibility of a mishap that stranded the astronauts on the moon was so real that the Nixon White House actually had contingency plans in place. James Mann, writing for the Washington Post, unearthed the short but eloquent speech that William Safire had written “in the event of moon disaster”. It began, “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.” It ended with the, “For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”

Mann: “What Safire wrote would have qualified as the most eloquent speech Nixon ever gave–and one of the most poignant by any American president. Thankfully, it never had to be delivered.” Having taken us all to the top of the the highest “mountain” yet scaled, it turns out that Armstrong, Aldren, and Collins were, like me, “landing” guys as well.

Imagine, once upon a time there really was a “man in the moon.” It is still astonishing to this day.

I’ll see you next week…

4th of July Craic: Sunday musings…7/7/19

1) Craic. Irish word for “good times”.

Had ‘em in spades this week.

2) Lakeside. After 2 frustrating years of mostly lake watching rather than lake using we just spent the better part of a week in and on Lake Erie. My quite beautiful bit of nautical lawn art (refurbished ’71 Whaler) finally got wet again, at least for a little bit. Our pier, so badly damaged by historically high lake levels was repaired, along with our secondary sea wall, in time for friends and family to frolic.

The craic ran at all-time high levels as well.

3) Family. What it means to be family is tricky sometimes. For us, at least in the closest family circles, it’s pretty straightforward. That’s more than a bit of a blessing, but as I’ve gotten older it has become  more clear that family is less about the genetics of lineage and more about the expression of love and caring. Beth and I played a small role in raising a fine young man who was not born into our family. And yet our weekend was missing him just as much as it was missing our oldest son. Both Dan and his little (and growing!) family and Alex were in Colorado while we hosted Megan (and Ryan) and Randy and his little family for the weekend.

Family resides as much in our heart as it does in our genes.

4) Dress code. There is a budding non-controversy in a little corner of the CrossFit world. (What? You thought I was never going to muse about CrossFit again? Silly panda) 2010 CrossFit Games Men’s Champion  Graham Holmberg owns a box somewhere in the greater Columbus, OH area. He very recently announced a dress code for his gym which can be adequately summarized as one which asks for “modesty” in the attire of exercising athletes there. Holmberg is well-known within the greater CrossFit community–check that, within those who became aware of CrossFit prior to, say, 2015 or so–as a deeply devout Christian. (One should note for completeness sake that multi-time Games champion Rich Froning is as well). He is asking that his gym’s members adhere to a dress code that comports with his religious leaning.

What’s the big deal?

Holmberg’s box is a private business that is patronized by paying clients who can choose to be there, or not. He will either learn that his clients are aligned with his worldview, or not. This is no different than the owner of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle who expounds on the virtue of her “rainbow festooned” box, clearly signaling her version of “modesty” through her welcoming of a clientele that might prove troubling to Homlberg. She invokes a politically fraught term to denigrate his decision, calling it a “dog whistle”. Frankly, I find her repeated notes of her rainbows as no more or less a “dog whistle” for her audience than “modesty” would be for Holmberg’s. These are both small business owners who are planting a flag for a particular type of business while at the same time signaling that they are less welcoming of another clientele.

That is precisely why this is a non-controversy: this is commerce. Holmberg and the Rocket owner run private enterprises in which their decisions will determine the relative success of those businesses. This is neither an example of government or elected officials seeking to impose their worldview on a heterogenous public, nor is it an example of a religious group such as the Amish insisting on dressing their children “plain” regardless of their age or desire. Who knows if Holmberg has his finger on the pulse of as much of his community of potential clients as Rocket does in Seattle. We know that at least one of his members disagrees since an internal membership email found its way to the chatternet so quickly. There will be a natural consequence to his dictum which will be whatever it will be.

For whatever it’s worth I hardly ever took my shirt off at Comet, CF Bingo, or any of the other boxes I’ve visited over the years, mostly to spare my fellow gym goers the pain of looking at my soft, pasty white middle. Still, it would bug me to have my attire regulated or my worldview assaulted at a place I visited for refuge and rejuvenation. I would vote with my wallet and my feet. If I wanted a work out space that was solely dedicated to making me feel as comfortable as possible I would open my own box.

The larger issue for me is the “sign of the Apocalypse” feeling this gives me about the evolution of CrossFit as a “thing”, a movement. Once upon a time that which we shared (CrossFit) was much more important than those things about which we may have disagreed. Go back and read some of the early Rest Day conversations. Posters went for the throat on everything except WCABTMD and FMPRHC. After every Rest Day everyone “showed up” and did the WOD. In the few CrossFit gyms scattered around the U.S. you had warfighters doing “Fran” side-by-side with LGBT activists. Loud and proud Progressives and Conservatives supported each other through “Murph”. When you went to the box you suffered alongside the real, live person who held a set of beliefs, and you interacted with your fellow CrossFitter, not his or her beliefs or worldview.

Because both of you could only see the next rep or the next round.

Where CrossFit was a refuge precisely because you were united by your identity as a CrossFitter, CrossFit is the lesser for this trend of gyms catering to the like-minded who happen to be gathering to do CrossFit. It is the equivalent to the difference between a wine tasting and a party at which you happen to be drinking wine; at the former you are there for the wine. CrossFit gyms were once about CrossFit. CrossFit was what you shared. CrossFit was what brought you there. The proliferation of CrossFit gyms has allowed for the segmentation of the CrossFit exercising population along both fitness (strength vs. endurance; health vs. competition) and social lines. Gyms have always had “personalities” that followed that of the owner/founder that attracted some and made others look elsewhere for their dose. Though YMMV, that these “personalities” hue so closely to established social movements thus making “that which we already share” a more important label than CrossFitter is for me a net negative in the continuing evolution of the greater CrossFit movement.

Still, this is commerce; the market will let the owners know if they have an issue.

From my little garage gym, I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…6/30/19

Sunday musings (lots to catch up on)…

1) Fonder. Absent last week. Never got to the keyboard. Miss me?

2) Timmy. Our little manster Tiny Tim passed away last fall. He was a great dog. Attached as if by velcro to Beth. He visited me last night in my dreams so vividly that when I awakened it was if my arms and my lap were still warmed by his soft, fuzzy body. It was a happy awakening.

I really miss our little floofball.

3) Savage. Did you know that Fred Savage from The Wonder Years is 42 years old? Not a typo. 42! I’m not really sure why this is so striking; I didn’t really watch the show and all.

Still, Fred Savage is 42 years old. Whoa.

4) Washing machine. Fun little article on hanging clothes to dry outside in this weekend’s WSJ. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw that outside of the beach. The whole washing and drying of clothes is yet another part of “the world is way better than we admit” thing I’ve touched on in recent months. For the price of a little electricity households are freed from the chore of washing and drying their clothes by hand.

Admit it. Unless you’ve done much travel in 3rd world countries or the whole bohemian backpack thing, you haven’t washed anything by hand in years. Maybe your whole life.

This does bring into play a few 1st world problems. Our washer drum is putting rust spots on our whites. Beth just ordered a new one to be delivered and installed on the 4th (in the middle of our party!). Top or front load I asked. Answer: “Top. The whole front load thing is annoying.”

There you have it.

5) PT. I threw on a backpack and took a walk to our local liquor store yesterday afternoon. Crazy good place that store. Anyway, I loaded up the back pack with “provisions” weighing ~20 lbs and walked on home. Only 2.5 months out from my hip replacement the extra load was actually pretty noticeable. Now when people ask what I’m doing for PT I have a new, and utterly perfect answer:

I’m a rum runner!

6) Words. How we express ourselves in the words we choose can make a difference in what others hear if we do, in fact, have the ability to choose. Those hearing us should extend  goodwill in that the vast majority of people speak with honorable intent. Still, when it is obvious that a choice has been made to alter a common speech pattern or phrasing it is heartwarming; the effort should be called out and those who made the effort applauded. A very important example, one that I have mentioned often, is to describe a suicide as “death by suicide” or killed by suicide”, opting to drop “committed” and all it carries.

So here’s to MLB and its tiny but meaningful gesture of changing the name of the list of players unable to play from the “disabled list” to the “injured list”, removing a possible cause of discomfort from affecting a vulnerable population. Bravo.

7) Equality. As I approach 60 I am frequently drawn back to times, places and people from the past. White privilege is a theme that is quite in the news of late. Other than being white it’s been rather hard to see how I’ve been otherwise privileged. Certainly I have never felt the sting of real discrimination based on the color of my skin; if privilege is simply the absence of discrimination then I have been thus privileged. But as I’ve written in the past my Dad grew up quite poor, and our very lower middle-class life in the earliest days of our family was remarkably similar in almost all ways to that of a super-majority of the families in the town where I was born.

Why was that? Southbridge was notably short of not only the truly rich, but even the upper-middle class. As far as I can remember there was only really one rich family (the Wells family owned American Optical, the big employer) who literally no one ever saw, and precisely one neighborhood that stood out. And that only because the lots were a little bigger. My memory is that the houses themselves were pretty much just like those in the rest of the town. Nobody took fancy vacations or traveled to exotic locations. Little League shut down when AO closed for 2 weeks in July, and everyone went to the local lakes. In my memory almost every family in town who wanted to belonged to the little 9 hole country club if Dad played golf.

What was really extraordinary was how it felt to be a kid in school. I have no memory of anyone standing out based on any type of affluence or wealth. The kids who had cars had them because they were car-centric families. Those of us who did not (my siblings and I were not allowed to own our own cars in high school and college) didn’t because our families just didn’t have cars for the kids. There are no memories of stratification based on the clothes we wore in school. In fact my only memory about clothes was how I felt because of our own family’s very strict dress code for school. No bellbottoms or blue jeans in school, and we could only wear sneakers on Friday. My hair never touched my ears or came within hailing distance of my collar. Remember, we’re talking the 60′s and 70′s here.

Although there was a regional Catholic high school in town almost no one went there despite the fact that at least 90% of us were Catholic. We all took French in school, even the children from Puerto Rican families for whom Spanish was the language spoken at home. Kids were “tracked” academically in those times; I spent each school day with pretty much the same 25 or so kids. In the hallways between classes you couldn’t distinguish which track a kid might be in, though. I was just as likely to be hanging out with a neighborhood buddy or a teammate with whom I never shared a classroom as I was to be walking with someone from math class. As I look back it seems remarkable.

For the boys at least, we all seemed to share our rites of passage on similar timelines. Sign up for Little League at 8. Basketball leagues started at the Y at age 10. We all played Pop Warner football in 7th and 8th grades. It surely seems like everyone I knew did all of that at the same time (girls sports were different in those pre-Title 9 days so my memories are skewed male, for sure). It seems like we all had our first beers and our first kisses within 12 months of each other, max. Despite obvious genetic differences in academic or athletic prowess we all seemed so much alike. There seemed to be so little that separated any of us from one another. I’ve often noted that the difference between the “good kids” and the “bad kids” may have been simply that the “good kids” didn’t get caught.

The White family moved on, moved to another state and another school system, and another way of life as my father became more and more successful. It was obvious that we now had more of at least some stuff, not least of which was house. There was a vast range of housing in our new town. Consequently there was a greater awareness of neighborhoods among everyone, including the kids. High school in the 70′s largely broke down this awareness and never let it be a barrier, but looking back that new town and new school were different. And I am left to wonder not why the new school was different (because I see now that it was actually more realistic and probably normal), but why my first school was really the one that stood apart.

In the end I believe that Southbridge in the 60′s and 70′s was different because of all the things that were the same. Everyone went to public schools. Most Moms stayed home. The only difference between Dads seemed to be whether they took their daily shower in the morning before work or at night after. Pretty much every household had the same philosophy on child raising, and consequently you were kinda parented by every parent in town. School was safe. We had only to behave there as we behaved at home and we were free to learn. Mostly we all had the same amount of nothing extra. Nothing that set us apart from one another. It seems that we only kept score in class and on the playing fields and had nothing to measure and to compete for otherwise.

Is this simply the rose-colored memory of a kid who was mostly successful in school? Maybe, but as my old school friend Jan pointed out yesterday I wasn’t really as successful socially as I was in the classroom and on the field. One wonders if anyone else who was there at the time has a similar memory. My sense from our conversation is that Jan might. Still, as someone who has since traveled  way up and way down the economic and social ladders, there was something there that I’ve not found anywhere else. It’s not obvious to me why that was.

My hope is that, having lived there and having experienced what I remember as an equality that was so natural and unexplored that it seems extraordinary and rare, that the greatest lesson I learned there is that it is always what we have in common that matters. And that we almost always have much more in common than not. Our default setting should always be set on “equal”.

I’ll see you next week…

The Lifelong Bond Between Caddies. Sunday musings…6/9/19

1) 27. Happy 27th Birthday to my doppelgänger Randy. Never fails to make me laugh when he laughs (or sneezes, or talks) and someone expects to see me.

2) Mom. Boy, my Mom and I made a spectacle of ourselves this weekend! I really wonder what folks thought about the wacky, age mismatched couple laughing uproariously at the bar on Friday night. The only one who “got” us was Cecelia, a ridiculously precocious 4 1/2 yo, a bat savant, who chatted up Mom at The Ice Cream Machine.

You had to be there.

3) Hip. Couple of milestones this weekend as I continue to recover from my total hip. I just finished my longest walk, 30 minutes, and I feel great. The lack of “athleticism” is weird, though. You know, that ability to just move on demand. Yeah, not there yet. The other milestone was setting off my first airport metal detector. Funny, it didn’t happen on the way out. Of course I left everything in my pockets (TSA pre-checked) and ending up getting the full, up close and personal experience when I went through the particle detector with my wallet in tow.

Air travel is not for sissies.

4) Sasha. What a gem our new little Aussie Shepherd is turning out to be. Our border collie Abby loves her, and Sasha is equally in love with her new big sister. You can’t help but feel great about coming home when your dog wags her (sorta) tail so hard her feet come off the ground.

Rescue your next dog so that it can rescue you.

5) Caddy. My caddy partner for the day was having a rough go of it. A bit older than the high school and college kids who filled the benches in the caddy shack, he was there to make a little extra cash while hanging out with his people, other caddies. His golfer was a handful. He’d been having a tough round and was not handling it very well. By the time we got to the 14th tee he’d thrown his club a dozen times. Of course, he duck hooks his tee shot out of bounds to the left and sends his club helicoptering 50 yards and into the gorse. The caddy looked at the gorse; he looked at the golfer. “I think you’re going to have to throw a provisional club Sir. I don’t think I’m going to be able to find that first one.”

Pretty sure that was his last loop, maybe ever.

Were you ever a caddy? In one of my older essays about my requirement that young physicians should spend time in their training working in an intensely personal customer service job I suggested that being a caddy would be an excellent assignment for interns before you let them take care of patients on their own. As a caddy you may be a better golfer than your boss, and you may very well know much more about the golf course than they do, but the only thing that matters is that you contribute to the enjoyment of the game for your boss that day, the golfer for whom you tote the bag.

Training for the ultimate consumer service job: doctor.

There is a very special bond between caddies who have worked together. Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor to connect with three men with whom I plied the links as kids, Christopher, Chris, and Michael. The brothers Bohac (Christopher and Michael) were two of three Bo’s who caddied when my brother and I were caddying, and Chris one half of a twin set who took their seats in the caddy shack alongside us. C Bo is now the director of course operations and assistant pro at the club we all worked for. The White brothers and the Bohac brothers were also junior members of the club as well. Chris, Christopher, and Michael were joined by a buddy for 18 and I rode a cart with them for a few holes of visiting.

If you think golfers are bad about telling the same stories over and over, hang out with a bunch of ex-caddies some time. Laugh? I don’t know how any of the guys got a ball airborne we were laughing so much for those 3 holes. You see, we caddied in a different time. A more innocent time, and frankly a less pretentious time, at least at our Dads’ club. We were famous for “caddy pranks”, stuff that the poor kids nowadays would never dream of trying. You always needed to keep a close eye on the caddies in the groups in front of and behind you lest a key club in your golfer’s bag go missing. I wish we had cell phone cameras back in the day just so we could have recorded a fellow caddy doing a front flip when his crossed straps caught him in the knees as he picked up his bags! Or a picture of Christopher’s bags hanging about 8 feet up in a fir tree when he was a junior caddy and made the mistake of leaving them right where his brother and I would be forecaddying on the next hole.

Poor “Chrissy” was only about 4’10 at the time.

So many caddies went on to become golfers. For sure the White and  Bohac brothers did. Both Chris and his bother Pat play. I like to think that all ex-caddies are as good to their caddies as my three buddies are. The fiercest ribbing came when a team hit their drives on the opposite sides of a fairway, a set-up that would make a caddy carrying double work extra hard. Indeed, what we learned on the golf course as caddies was not only how to provide service to a very particular individual, we also learned very valuable lessons about what kind of adult men we wished to be (note: there were no female caddies at our club; women golfers only rarely used caddies). Golf tends to accentuate essential characteristics of the golfer. Honor, or lack thereof. Courtesy and respect, or not. The difference between confidence and arrogance. Men for whom respect came naturally and men who tried to buy it. We saw it all. Being a caddy prepared me for pretty much all manner of adult male behavior as I moved through the stages of my education and career.

Many thanks to my old caddy buddies Christopher, Michael, and Chris for the warm welcome, the memories, and the laughs yesterday. For better or for best, I am who I am at least in part because my brother and I were caddies with you once upon a more (or less) innocent time.

I’ll see you next week…

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