Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for May, 2019

Four Star Treatment

The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans is one of my favorite places in all of the world. Tucked into a corner across the street from the casino, equi-distant from both the convention center and the French Quarter, it is an oasis of genteel service surrounded by a kind of institutional crassness. Just walking through the gate and seeing the fountain in the courtyard always makes me comfortable, makes me smile.

What I really love about the hotel, though, is that it is a place of exemplary service in which I can just act like myself. Do you ever go to a new restaurant or hotel that has a reputation for excellence, a place inhabited by a clientele with whom you might not regularly consort, and feel like you (and your behavior) are being judged by the staff? You find yourself trying to “live up to” the expectation of a waiter or concierge, inverting the service continuum because deep down you’re not really convinced you belong there. Somehow you have to “live up” to the place. You are there for them, rather than the other way around.

In my 30’s and 40’s I never, not for a single minute, had that sense in any situation whatsoever. I owned every room I walked into, no matter who was there or who was yet to arrive. Several major life events occurred in my 50’s which not only humbled me a bit, but also shook my core sense of worthiness. It’s as if those setbacks and challenges had somehow negated what my family and I had accomplished as we climbed out of the bitter poverty of my Dad’s youth. Even my wardrobe, classic and conservative almost by genetic decree, felt uncomfortable for a time. Funny, to find myself trying to impress a waiter, let alone another guest, as if I needed to prove I was worthy enough to be served.

The quiet, comfortable service given me as soon as I stepped out of the cab and was welcomed back to the Windsor Court has brought order back to the service continuum for me. In my day job I provide the service, and each of my clients deserves to assume that they are worthy of my very best. When I close up the shop at day’s end and head out I am now the client. Whatever room I enter is now once again mine. Tuxedo or tee shirt, my clothes fit me like a glove. Wherever I end up, I belong.

You do, too.

Bucket List Trips: Sunday musings…5/26/19

Anyone who has read any of my stuff will remember my angst filled year of turning 50, memorialize in “The Hard Turn at Mile Marker 49”. Last week, for whatever reason, it dawned on me that next January I will turn 60. No, this is not another whiny, self-absorbed description of my angst at that rather non-interesting discovery (of course, pretty much every entry here is, at the very least, somewhat self-absorbed). 2009 was a rather challenging year for me in many respects, but 2019 is actually pretty OK, thank you very much. I’m actually enjoying the vast majority of the minutes of my regular day-to-day life, way too much so to allow the thought of finishing another decade to intrude on the fun.

Beth and I have been talking quite a bit over the last little while about Bucket List travel. Hers, at least insofar as I understand it, is really pretty straightforward and logical; Beth would like to visit North Dakota and Alaska and thereby check off all 50 states in her lifetime of travel, and she would like to visit Scandinavia since that part of Europe is also a hole in her travelogue. We’ve talked about that quite a bit and have at least a rudimentary plan starting to take shape. I, on the other hand, have spent so little time even considering that I might maybe even HAVE a Bucket List of trips that I am literally and figuratively all over the map. Since my darling wife really and truly would like me to find happiness and joy around my 60th, my random and thus far totally unfocused “planning” is once again causing her to stress over my silly birthday.

Again, so not fair.

In my defense there are a couple of structural and logistical issues (I hesitate to call them barriers) that are involved in any discussion of travel around my birthday. To begin with, it’s in January. That would be winter in the northern hemisphere, and we have largely lost our love for wintery activity. We seek to leave our cold, dark and dank hometown each winter in search of blue sky sunny. ┬áSounds like a layup you might say. All of those classic south of the equator Bucket List destinations like Australia and New Zealand, Costa Rica and Belize are just there for the pickin’. Machu Pichu here we come, right? But I feel about these pretty much the way I feel about almost every other possible draft choice in the Bucket List lottery. They’d all be cool and all, but none of them make my heart skip a beat.

Our little slice of Heaven at Casa Blanco is simply lovely from June 1st until well after Labor Day. Treating myself to staycations of varying lengths has been one of the nicest gifts I’ve been able to give myself (might actually be a Bucket List item checked off). Taking trips away from home in the summer in many ways makes little sense since each day at home is like a tiny vacation during the summer. And yet there are destinations and trips that do interest me quite a bit that make all the sense in the world during the summer and the fall. I’ve never been to Italy or the French countryside. For 35 years or so I have been carrying on a passionate love affair with all things wine. The vineyards and wineries of the American Pacific Northwest have long been on my target list.

Is it still a milestone Bucket List birthday trip if you take it 9 months after your birthday?

My old college buddy John Starr has been on a fun little quest he has labels “Drinks Around the World”, regaling us all on Facebook with pictures of all manner of libations consumed in places both high and low. It looks like he’s having an absolute blast, and I will freely admit to more than a touch of envy when I see each of his Captain’s Log Entries from the field. This morning over our weekly bacon indulgence Beth suggested shorter but much more frequent, smaller trips, perhaps tied to late-published airline fare sales. As I’ve mulled this over (and over, and over…) this morning perhaps this idea (and John’s inspiration) is where my Bucket List actually comes to life.

In my mind I’m a great traveler. Even my choice in watches reflects this romantic notion of myself: I only buy dual or multi-timezone watches. You know, because at any moment I might up and hop on a plane and travel several time zones away and need to know what time it is at home. Silly, I know, but still, it always makes me smile when I look down at the face of a GMT watch and think about that. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe it’s the act of travel and the freedom to be able to travel that’s actually the Bucket List item I am supposed to be checking off as I turn 60.

Yes, I think that might be it. I suppose it’s such a cliche that it’s almost painful, but my Bucket List may not be about the destinations at all, but about the journeys.

I’ll see you next week…

It’s Better Than You Think: Sunday musings…5/18/19

1) Cassowarrie: Enormous flightless bird from Australia. Possessor of a 4th claw which makes it the most dangerous bird in the world.

Run away, Forrest.

2) Toe-tagged. Another absolutely delightful phrase coming on the heels of last week’s “Furballed”. Means dead, or as good as dead. As in “toe-tagged Pimlico” where the ancient plumbing gave new meaning to the term “sloppy track” at yesterday’s Preakness. (HT Tim Layden)

The runs, Forrest.

3) Bodexpress. In this year of danger in horse racing what the sport needed was either a simple, clean race run at the Preakness, or a hero of some sorts. What it got was both. War of Will was once again ridden brilliantly by its jockey, guided tight to the rail and sprung through the opening that never materialized at Churchill Downs to win in 1 1/4 lengths. No fouls; no harm.

Yet the story is all about the number 9 horse, Bodexpress, who dumped his rider at the gate (the jockey was unhurt) and then proceeded to not only run the entire race alone, but also to take a “victory lap” before being corralled by an outrider. Thoroughbreds run because they love to run. One of the risks of having a riderless horse is that sometimes the horse gets in the thick of the race and tries to win. For a few moments it sure looked like Bodexpress was going to be that horse. Again, no fouls, no harm.

Someone should have wiped down his face, just to see what a horse smiley face looks like on the towel. Run Forrest, run.

4) Better. Our world is much better off than you have been led to believe by the media. Yes, a cursory look at incomes relative to inflation appears to show that we have “stagnated” since 1972. That our “buying power” is at best unchanged since that time. But if you look even a tiny bit closer at the economics involved you see that not only has our financial health actually improved, almost everything around us has, too.

Let’s take a quick look at where we live. In comparison with 1972 all but the most squalid of habitats in the U.S. have not only running water, but also have a dishwasher. Some 80% of homes are now air conditioned compared with something like 15%, and almost no abode is without not only a TV, but almost always a high definition flat screen TV. The percentage of homes in which there are 2 or more rooms for each person living there has increased something like 100X. While homelessness continues to be a maddeningly complex problem resistant to a solution, those who do have homes live in dramatically more hospitable circumstances than in 1972. Deaths from non-lifestyle disease continue to fall. If you avoid the dangers associated with various consumptive diseases (alcohol, obesity, opiates, etc.) your life-expectancy continues to rise.

Food has become less and less expensive, regardless of quality (whatever that may mean). Where once families spent upwards of 20% of their income on food it is now closer to 8 or 9%. We now have access to out of season fruits and vegetables year round, regardless of our zip code. Hunger, while not eradicated by any means, is now a very small problem in America. It has been replaced by something called “Food or hunger anxiety”, the fear of being hungry. We have more nutritious options at a lower cost relative to 1972. Functional clothing is another example of the same phenomenon.

What have we been purchasing with the money we are not spending on food and clothing? Well, you are reading this on an internet connected something or other that did not exist in 1972. The internet did not exist in 1972. You likely bought that something or other on line from a vendor that did not exist in 1972. In doing so you did not have to use your car, a car that by the way almost certainly is safer, pollutes less, and is more comfortable than all but the most exotic options in 1972; you cannot buy a car without air conditioning unless you are buying a race car. Those phones we are all attached to have more computing power than that used to land on the moon, even those that cost as little as $200. Some of your former food budget is now spent “connecting”.

We are continually told that we are falling behind. That we somehow can’t afford what we need. Somehow our current world is not as good as that in 1972 or 1955. Yet we actually have more. Much more, actually. Our baseline has risen magnificently in all ways for almost all Americans. By and large each one of us has what we need. More than what we need, actually. This prevailing angst that what we do for a living is somehow not adequate if it doesn’t feed our soul, or some such, is new in only the aspect that there is so much public kvetching and caviling about it. Do you really think all those men in gray suits and blue ties felt “fulfilled” by their job selling mainframes in the 60’s? Come on.

You have what you need. Step one toward happiness, and perhaps fulfillment is to want what you have. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more of anything. For sure there is nothing wrong with wanting and working toward more happiness. No one has a right to anything other that those needs necessary to live freely such that they may pursue that happiness. We have not gone backwards. We have not stagnated. It is easier in 2019 than it was in 1972 to pursue happiness.

You have what you need.

I’ll see you next week…

Mother’s Day 2019 Sunday musings 5/12/19

1) Furballed. Choked. Best new word in a long time.

2) Keanu. “I’m very fortunate. I’m glad to be here.” –Keanu Reeves

Me too, Brother. Me too.

3) Vineyard Vines. You know, Lands End for the “can’t spend my money fast enough” crowd.

Until it shows up in Target.

4) Presence. My Mom lost one of her closest friends yesterday. Frank, or hilariously “Honey” to those in the know, passed away peacefully in his sleep after kissing his beloved wife Mag goodnight on her way to her third shift nursing supervisor gig. Frank and Mag were the dearest, truest of friends for my Mom and Dad, and after Dad passed they continued to be incredibly generous and supportive of Mom. Everyone should have friends the way my folks and the Detorie’s had each other. My heart breaks for both Mag and my Mom.

Frank was a bit more than that for me. My brother and I often caddied for him on Wednesday afternoons when he and the other doctors in town took time off to hit the links. Like pretty much all general surgeons in that era Frank was literally larger than life. He was big in every way. Tall, booming voice, and as with all surgeons of the day, he possessed boundless confidence in his ability to be right. He’d even been in the Navy if memory serves. Think Hawkeye Pearce and Trapper John all in one. Being in the OR when he walked in was to be ringside when Ali came through the ropes. Very impressive for a young buck who desperately wanted to be a doctor.

Thank you Dr. Detorie, for all of that. Fair winds and following seas Sir.

5) Mommy. It’a Mother’s Day in America. Here at Casa Blanco we’ve heard from all of the kids and grandkids. Only my Mom and my sister’s mother-in-law remain for us to call. All bases have been touched. We will share the end of the day and dinner with one of our little families. It’s gonna be great. All of the mothers in our family are “Mommies”.

To be a mother is to give birth. There is nothing trivial about that. Carrying a baby for 9 months is the set up for the privilege of childbirth. It’s all a big, big deal. Being a mother never ends; you carried them and gave birth. Once labor is done presence is no longer necessary. Being Mommy, on the other hand, is an ultramarathon of being present. There is literally no amount of time, attention, or energy that a a Mommy can give to her child that will be enough. It’s an ongoing, every minute of the day endeavor, even if she isn’t in the room, or the house for that matter. Mommy is there in spirit, always. Mommy teaches and she plays and she loves. One chooses to be Mommy. Mommy never really leaves.

So here’s to all the Mommies who are being celebrated today. My professional colleagues who manage to do the same job I do AND be someone’s Mommy are awe-inspiring to say the least. Happy Mother’s Day to you all.┬áTo my Mom, still very engaged in the act of teaching and playing and loving. Make you a deal, Mom: I’ll keep being a “work in progress” if you’ll promise to stick around doing the Mommy thing. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. A big shout out to the two women who are Mommy to my grandkids. Thank you for being the terrific Moms you’ve been, and thank you for sharing your babies with us; they are so very lucky to have you. Happy Mother’s Day Katelyn and Brittany.

And finally, Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who has been Mommy to my little brood, my darling Beth. I always chuckle when someone compliments me on what a great job I’ve done as a parent. It’s mostly reflected glory, but thanks! It’s been such a great privilege to be a Dad alongside you as Mom. How cool that you get to be Mommy and Grammy today?!

We are all so lucky to have you.

I’ll see you next week…

Old Friends: Sunday Musings 5/5/19

1) Hip. 3 1/2 weeks out from surgery I forgot my cane this weekend and made it through unscathed. Mistake or milestone?

2) Dayton. In town for a wedding (see below). We spent almost all of our time in and around the campus of the University of Dayton. I’ve always loved college campuses, and Dayton was another campus to love. 4+ years there must be a very nice way to grow up.

3) “You can’t make old friends.”

Beth and I are cruising home following the wedding of a young man we’ve known essentially since birth. Billy is the middle child of our oldest, closest local friends, a couple we met in graduate school in 1982. Over drinks at the Rehearsal Dinner on Friday the topic of friendship came up (out of town guests had been invited to attend). Beth recalled the song lyric above, pretty much stopping conversation in its track when she did. Assembled at that particular table were the parents of the groom, two couples they’d met when they moved to Cleveland in 1991, and us. That’s a lot of years of friendship for that couple.

It takes much more than time to make an old friend, though time is certainly a major part of the recipe. Friends share not just time but also time together. Real friends share experiences, and more than that they openly share how those experiences made them feel. There is a trust in friendship, and you can’t have an old friend unless that trust has been tested over time and repeatedly made the grade. An old friend is one you turn to when times are both good and not so good; they are equally able to share both your sorrows and your joys, and they will forgive you for both. You don’t need to be anyone other than yourself, your truest self when you are in the company of old friends. No masks, no posturing, no playing position. Friendship of this kind is the ultimate nonzero-sum game.

That Beth and I have old friends is among our greatest accomplishments. You can’t make old friends, you have to earn them.

I’ll see you next week…

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