The Power of Short Stories

lenawinfreyseder talks short stories, and puts me in good company:

http://wmdgroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/the-power-of-short-stories/

Time to write some!

fired up

 I'm getting really, and ironically, sick and tired of missing fire calls because of illness/doctor appointments/prescription runs/medical testing/ER visits. (Not to mention the occasional meeting with a tax professional.) We've got two medical appointments down in Fort Wayne today. Guaranteed the AFD will get called out on a run or two.

My body's breaking down. Say, where's that government agency that built the Six Million Dollar Man?

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Getting Stoned: When Kidneys Attack



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


(My wife wrote a column for me this week because I was indisposed, which is to say I was in the hospital with agonizing abdominal pain. Emily tried to write it the way I would have, as if it was me writing. But it was shorter than my normal, and since I’m feeling a bit better now I thought I’d comment on her story. If you see it in parenthesis, it’s me – everyone knows how much I love parenthesis. Is there a plural for parenthesis? Parenthesizes?)


They say nothing is more painful than taxes.

(They’ve obviously never heard me sing.)

Yeah, they lied. And that’s why my wife is writing my column as I sleep off the medication.

Everything was going so well – we grabbed some quick food between the chiropractor’s office and the tax office, forgot a form, and didn’t have some of the calculations we needed. And that’s about the point when I decided that I should probably head to the ER about the rapidly developing, searing abdominal and back pain.

(You should have seen the look on the face of the tax preparer on hearing my announcement that I had to go to the hospital. Then again, maybe she’s used to it.)

The next three hours or so were pretty hazy, and included lots of diagnostic tests. Apparently, I passed a kidney stone either in the tax office (Their restroom, that is) or in the sample I gave once I got to the ER. (Now the docs think the stone passed from my kidney to my bladder, where it awaits round 2.) Between the convulsing in agony, yelling in pain, and heaving my guts up, the nurses told me I was “handling it better than most”. Yikes.

(Makes me wonder how others handle it, because I was a whiney basket case.)

They had to pump me full of some pretty powerful pain and anti-nausea medications, of course, so I could keep things down and stay still enough for the diagnostics. My first experience with narcotics was, I’m told, hilarious. Here are some of my, um, most quotable quotes:
 
            (I’m taking her word that I actually said these things.)

“This is men’s punishment for not bearing children.” Pretty sure I stole that one from… somewhere.

“I can’t have a cat scan: I’m allergic, and it would upset the dog.” Hey, I never said I wasn’t repetitive.

“Sorry I threw up in the sink. A lot.”

(At one point I’m pretty sure the R.M.S. Titanic came out of my mouth.)

“I’m really here because Emily punched me in the stomach.”

(Actually, it’s the dog who usually punches me in the stomach, when he thinks he’s being friendly.)

“I will never drink Mountain Dew again.”

(Okay, I lied.)

“I’m still mad at you for not singing me ‘Soft Kitty’.”

(Mostly I asked her to sing that song from “The Big Bang Theory” just to see the expression on her face.)

“Jeff, do you know anything about toilets? Mine is making this funny sound.”

(This was me playing on my brother’s sympathy in an attempt to get free home maintenance help.)

When I asked if I could drive home, a chorus of “No!” came from all four other people in the room. I’m pretty sure I heard someone down the hall yell it too, just for good measure.

(I wonder where my car is, now?)

I’m fine now – a little sore and still healing, but after that harrowing experience, even my home improvement disasters won’t compare on a pain scale. It’s interesting how my three-millimeter pebble can cause more pain than our ninety-pound dog flying at me. I was also surprised at how acute (but definitely not cute) my symptoms were.

(I’d also like to take a moment to thank everyone at Parkview Noble ER, who took very good care of me. Believe it or not, it was my first visit to an emergency room as a patient, and living proof that it’s not always good to experience new things.)

Now I just have to find out how much blackmail-worthy information my family got out of me while I was ‘pain-free’.

            (When I ask about it, they just smile and pat their cell phone cameras. Stay tuned.)

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The Tragedy of Burying Your Children



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            Parents should never have to bury their children.

           That’s not the way life’s supposed to work. Parents should go to their death beds knowing their children are well, their grandchildren carry on the family name, and they’ve left behind a world just a little better than the one they were born into.

            But it doesn’t always work that way.

            Across the world, every day, young people die. From accidents, warfare, disease, abuse, and so many other causes. We lose those young people who could have been the next President, or Pope, or the guy who finds a cure for cancer, or the first woman to step foot on another planet. Hitler could have died in youth and saved a lot of other children, yes; but Abraham Lincoln could have died in youth, too.

            You can argue all day about possibilities, unfairness, aspirations, but consider the personal, the individual. If young Hitler or young Abe Lincoln had passed away as kids, would not both their mothers have grieved?

            No matter how many young people die, no matter how it happens, parents should not have to bury their children.

            The tragedy that happened here in Albion this month was a tragedy for everyone. That’s the way it is, in a small town. Everyone knows when the neighbors fight, when someone gets arrested, when someone changes jobs or gets a new car … and when bad things happen, they happen to all of us. It’s community grieving.

            I often think of myself as still being young, but this teen’s parents were in my class in school. I acted in plays with his mother, back when I was a kid. Surely I’m not the only one who spent some time in denial, then found themselves choking up at the oddest times.

            Just the same, we can’t assume to understand how it feels, what it means to day to day living and to how someone expected their family lives to play out. Mothers and fathers don’t care about the geopolitical big picture, they just want their babies back. They suffer a unique form of torture no one else can claim to understand.

            I’ve got kids and grandkids. I can’t understand the experience, but I certainly get the fear of experiencing it. I’d imagine a lot of us took the time to check in, maybe held our loves ones a bit longer, hugged them a bit tighter, worried a bit more when they were away. Worry is a parental requirement; this just inflates it.

            Please forgive me for adding a personal note. I haven’t been in touch with the family all that much in recent years, and failed miserably at showing my support after the accident. The mom runs a bed and breakfast here in Albion, where I had a book signing two Christmases ago, and I found her to be every bit the purely good, faithful, giving person she was back in high school. I’m ashamed that I didn’t knock on their door during the grieving period, but to be honest I was fighting through my own issues (which were not one bit as important as hers).

            When I was seventeen, I signed up to take a class and be an emergency medical technician. Several months later I joined the fire department in addition to the EMS, with visions in my head of being Johnny Gage from “Emergency!”

            But Johnny Gage didn’t spend a lot of time treating friends, neighbors, and family members, especially young ones. There’s the problem, when you live in a small town.

            I had a particularly bad ambulance call involving a kid, a call that I flash back to whenever someone mentions critical incident stress or post-traumatic stress disorder, or whenever something bad happens to a kid. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the beginning of the end of my EMS career. I didn’t seek treatment, of course; I’m a man. Hah.

            Although I just gave up my EMT certification after 30 years, I haven’t been active for a long time, and these days my chest tightens when my fire department is called to an accident, let alone a medical assist. One reason we volunteer for this is because we’re protecting people we know, but it’s also one reason why so many volunteers burn out. For some reason I find it easier to compartmentalize fires than accidents, even though the first major fire I went to as a volunteer was at a relative’s house. Easier to fight a fire than to, say, take a 911 call from my own mother, as has happened.

            Yeah, so I’m a mess, but I signed up for all that. I knew what I was getting into (Not really, but I can’t say I wasn’t warned). What’s worse? Having to be in on the tragedy of others, or suffer it yourself?

            That answer’s easy: I didn’t lose a kid.

            Whether your offspring is an adult or still a child, whether they’re at war or the victim of that one critical moment where something goes horribly wrong, nothing worse could possibly happen to a parent. And so we all grieve, whether we completely get it or not.

            I’m free associating, here; I have no particular point to this, and I’m probably not going to go back and clean it up. Maybe I’m jumping straight from the denial to the anger stage, neither of which is great for clear thinking. Don’t take anything from my words but an expression of sorrow.

Or maybe what you can take from this is that you should be there for people, while you still can. Stay safe, don’t miss an opportunity for a hug or a kind word, consider all the feelings of others, and be there.

That’s the best we can do.

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Sequester Solution: Common Sense



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


           By the time you read this, the world may have ended. At least, that’s how some are treating the Sequester, which is apparently Latin for Apocalypse.

            The Sequester is an agreement between the President and Congress, by itself amazing enough. It means that, if our government can’t agree on a budget by a certain date, draconian spending cuts kick in and all the oxygen will be sucked out of the country.

            “Draconian” is a Greek word meaning “needed”. There’s not much doubt among anyone with common sense that huge government spending cuts are needed, since Congress’ addiction to red ink spending makes meth addicts look like paragons of self-control. Unfortunately, according to the President, these awful cuts the Congress is forcing on him will leave our borders unguarded, empty grocery stores in middle class neighborhoods, and leave the US Navy reduced to three row boats and a Speedo.

            Lately no one’s much mentioned the fact that the whole thing was the President’s idea to begin with.

            While spending cuts are obviously necessary, the panic of the Sequester never was. Preventing it was a matter of the President submitting and Congress approving a budget, which is kinda their job. But they don’t want to face the reality of painful cuts, and why should they? Despite the view that their main job is raising campaign funds, and despite the general disgust the public feels toward them, they keep getting elected anyway. So what if they’re driving the country to ruin? They still get a raise.

            While cuts can be painful, it doesn’t have to be as bad as they’re making it out to be. For instance, while we hear cries of border crossings and national parks being shut down and critical defense personnel laid off, how many Congressional and White House staff members are being pink slipped? How many IRS agents? Indeed, how many Federal paper-pushers are going to be standing next to factory workers on the unemployment line?

            That’s what I thought.

            So the cuts have to be made, but not where they’re being made. Let’s consider some recent stats:

            The government paid the wrong person, the wrong amount, or for the wrong reason last year, to the tune of $115.3 billion. I’m not sure if that includes paying Congressmen.

            Amtrak, which has never made a profit from serving food on their trains, lost $85 million doing so last year. That’s enough to give every poor person in the world five bags of peanuts and a small coffee.

            The Department of Agriculture has an intern program for the Office of the Chief Information Officer. They spent $2 million … and hired one intern.

            The government spent $1.7 billion maintaining buildings. Good idea – a little work now saves a lot later. But that money went toward maintaining 77,700 unused buildings.

            Homelessness is a real problem in this country, which should be addressed by a consolidated, united approach. Instead, we have seven different agencies with almost a dozen different programs, and apparently none have talked to the agency that doesn’t use 77,700 buildings.

            The Government Accountability Office, which is ignored by all of Washington, found 34 areas in which federal agencies have overlapping goals or services that duplicate each other. The cost of that is billions every year, according to the fourteen agencies assigned to study the matter.

            Also important: Teaching. So important that the Department of Education, Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation run 82 different programs addressing teacher quality. They flunk math.

            Video conferencing is a cheap and efficient way to get people on the same page without travel and housing costs. Maybe someday the government will try that. For now, the Department of Justice alone held 1,832 conferences in one year, to the tune of $121 million. Just one, in Istanbul, cost $1.18 million.

            The Department of Veteran Affairs spread one conference out for 11 days, at a resort. That was $221,540.

            Another, held by the General Services Administration, cost $2,500 per employee. It was held in Vegas.

            There are thirty food safety laws, overseen by fifteen different federal agencies. And they still can’t explain to me the attraction of liver.

            The Navy bought 450,000 gallons of biofuel, which is a nice way to cut down on getting oil from countries that hate us. They paid $27 per gallon.

            You might be surprised, considering the government’s plan to hire more IRS agents, but the IRS already warehouses some unused furniture. It costs $860,000 annually.

            The Department of Energy bought a half million bucks worth of “green” energy manufacturing equipment. They can’t find it.

            The Bureau of Indian Affairs paid for a fish hatchery that operated for fourteen years. Unlike government spending ideas, no fish was ever hatched.

            The Departments of Agriculture and Energy got together to spend $76 million on a grant to turn wood into ethanol. The new plant closed a year later. Total ethanol produced: Zero.

            The feds also handed over a $25,000 grant, which really isn’t a drop in the bucket by their standards – hardly even a molecule in the bucket. Still, it’s interesting to note that all the money went to translate a Maldivian love ballad. That’s amore.

            That National Institutes of Health spent $170,000 to research the hookah smoking habits of Jordanians. Our National Institutes of Health.

            Maybe that’s not so surprising, considering the Agriculture Department funded a reality show that advertised American cotton – in India. Meanwhile, the EPA funded a $141,450 study of swine manure in China, which already has our bread. We gave the UN $1.2 million to promote clean fuel, so why didn’t they fund the non-producing ethanol plant?

            Then there’s taxpayer money spent on private business: Over a half billion to Solyndra, $46.5 million to Beacon Power, $73.1 million to Abound Solar … I should check and see how those businesses are doing.

            So, what does the Sequestration actually cut?

            Army training; military health care, ammunition, and fuel; FBI agents; nuclear weapons security; diplomatic security; food inspection; air traffic control; childhood vaccinations.

            So, there you go. Making the hard choices is replaced by automatic cuts to areas that actually make sense to fund, and our elected officials go on shirking their duties.

            How many of them are getting laid off?

Relay Writer's Failed Ideas



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            I spent a lot of time in recent years thinking of cancer, which is strange because most of the men in my family seem to drop dead of heart attacks. You’d think I’d spend all my time making sure everyone around me updates their CPR training.

            Five years ago, after allegations that I was a pretty good writer, I was approached about doing public information work for the Noble County Relay For Life.

            Hopefully it was unrelated, but not long after I was sent to my urologist, Dr. Finger, after an unusually high reading on a routine test. He spoke those most dreaded of all medical sentences: “Drop your pants and bend over”.

            Thus his nickname.

            The thing is, I’ve engaged in that odd business known as volunteer firefighting, and back in the day – okay, decades ago –  we usually did it without breathing protection. This is where the term “leather lungs” comes from, but it turns out inhaling all that smoke and poisonous gasses increases the odds for all sorts of cancers, including my favorite: prostate. It’s just that “leather prostate” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

            Then came four years of waiting, tests, and more waiting. This winter a newer, more accurate test declared me to be normal, at least physically. This assumes future tests and routine digital ickiness don’t change the results.

            But I became the NCRFL promotions chair before my diagnosis, and I’m not running out now. First of all, “Promotions Chair” sounds kind of cool, even though they didn’t actually give me a chair. Second, all I really do is write up some press releases and send them out, but I still get to call myself Promotions Chair.

            Just for fun, I thought I’d use my position to brainstorm ideas for this year’s event, and I have until The Relay Committee and Team meeting on March 21st to come up with something.

            Something they’ll agree to, that is. The Relay has a lot of activities as well as themed laps around the West Noble track and football field, so I tried to mix them up and think outside the oval. For instance, when I saw such things as the silent auction, tug of war, children’s games, and concerts, I came up with:

            Fireball Frisbee. Just like regular Frisbee, only the flying saucers are on fire. Since the Relay is an all-night event, Fireball Frisbee would look really cool at 4 a.m., and since the emergency services usually has a high presence at these events, first aid would be a cinch.

            Helicopter rides. This is a great fund raising idea that would start at midnight and go on until 5 a.m. I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t area homeowners be upset? Yes, and that’s where the fund raising comes in: The more they pay, the quieter it is.

            Pin the Blame on the Politician. It’s harder than it looks.

            As for the theme laps, there are always fun themes in addition to the Victory Lap, but I thought I’d punch it up a bit. For instance:

            Taser Lap. Everyone would walk fast in this one. Or else.

            Fire Walk Lap. Fire walking is totally safe, if done properly, or so I’ve been told. The fire could be started with flaming Frisbees. However, it was pointed out to me that a layer of superheated coals on top of an asphalt track might not end well.

            Nudist Walk. This is meant to replace Strip Tap Dancing, which was judged to be less than family oriented. Nudist groups are famous for being family oriented, or so I used to hear from the old nudist magazines that I swear I never read.

            The Nudist Walk was shot down not only because some people don’t want to have skin in that game, but because the Relay is on May 18th and 19th this year. For people walking outside in Indiana, mid-May could mean frostbite or sunburn, maybe on the same day. There are some areas where you don’t want frostbite and sunburn.

            Maybe I’d better just stick to reporting on the ideas of others. Besides, three and a half million people take part in five thousand Relays in this country alone. I suppose somebody in California’s already doing the Nudist Lap, Hawaii has a Fire Walk Lap, and they’re doing a Taser Lap in downtown Chicago.

            In the end, what the Noble County Relay For Life is all about is in this year’s theme, “Colors of Hope”. This time of year, green is my color of hope. I’m talking the greens of spring, but the green of cash going toward cancer research and patient support is what we’re walking for.


Register online on the Noble County Relay For Life website at:  http://www.relayforlife.org/noblecountyin

For more information contact Melissa Stephens at melissa.stephens@cancer.org or by phone at 260-471-3911, or Carla Fiandt at the Community State Bank in Albion, at carlaf@csbemail.com, or 260-636-3744.
 
The Whitley County Relay For Life is June 1, with information online at: