Youth-in-Asia

It’s been cold here in the Lakeside area this week. And for those of you who live in Northern climes, I get it. This isn’t really cold. -30°F. That’s cold!

But cold is a relative term, and 57°F with overcast skies and a cool wind down here feels like the onset of the next Ice Age. The Mexican locals dress like Minnesotans in January. Big down-filled parkas. Winter hats and caps. Scarves wrapped around their faces. Gloves. And if you ask them, they will tell you they’re fucking freezing to death.

Ten years in Phoenix has effected the way my body reacts to and adjusts to the weather. I haven’t broken out my winter parka and scarf yet, but my reaction for the last couple of days has been to turn on the gas fireplace, camp out in the living room, and try to stay warm.

That’s not entirely true. I went golfing on Monday with my golf wife. Phyllis and I decided we don’t need wind and cold to impact our game. We’re bad enough on good days. And I went to my golf lesson with Tom yesterday. It was even colder and windier, and even less fun.

It’s supposed to be back up in the 70’s next week, and that will be a welcome change. And everyone can talk about how they survived the Winter from Hell in Ajijic. According to people in the know, this has been the coldest winter in recorded history in the Lakeside area.

* * * *

Euthanasia is one of those words that doesn’t mean anything close to the way it sounds. It sounds like you’re talking about children in China. Or anywhere else in the Oriental East.

Just in cases you don’t know what euthanasia means, here’s the definition: Euthanasia (from Greek: εὐθανασία; “good death”: εὖ, eu; “well” or “good” – θάνατος, thanatos; “death”) is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.

It’s kind of like the Spanish word disfruta. In English, the prefix dis is associated with bad things. Dis-ease. Dis-tress. In English slang, if you diss someone, you’re saying not very good things about them.

In Spanish, the word for fruit is fruta. So if you try to Spanglish the hell out of the word disfruta you come up with bad fruit. And you’d be totally wrong because it means enjoy. 

Yeah, go figure.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this. Given my style, that’s a good question to ask. The central figure in the beginning of this story is our very old kit-ten, Samantha. Sam is going to be twenty years old in April. We’ve had Sam in our house for roughly one-third of our lives. She has survived three moves with us.

Like unto most any creature of advanced age, Sam isn’t doing as good as she did when she was younger. She used to run and frolic and hunt lizards. Now, she mostly sleeps and eats, and goes back to sleep. She had a couple of days when she couldn’t keep food or  water down, and that was very disconcerting. She has arthritis in her hips, and when she moves she does so slowly and deliberately.

I’m not sure, but I think she’s developed a cataract in her right eye, and she’s probably developing some degree of deafness as well. Maybe she can still hear as well as she ever did, but she simply cares less about what people are saying.

Who knows? She’s a cat, and cats are, well, mystical.

I don’t know if it’s her limited mobility, or possible vision problems, or something else entirely; but Sam has developed some issues when she uses the litter box over the last month or so. The biggest problem is she doesn’t appear to be actually using her litter box. I think she’s still trying, but she’s developed some serious accuracy problems.

I have a couple of plastic mats in front of the litter box that generally gather and corral her errant urine, and we have ceramic tile floors, so clean up is a breeze. I used to be a nurse. I’ve cleaned up a lots of urine and other body fluids in my lifetime. Still, it’s not a task I can say I relish doing, no matter how much I love our kit-ten.

As a result, my lovely supermodel wife and I have had several End of Life conversations about her beloved kit-ten. These are not easy conversations. Lea really loves her kit-ten, and she always starts crying. I really hate seeing her cry. We’ve had to say farewell to other kit-tens, and those were painful events.

When the day finally comes that we have to put our kit-ten down, that will be a very sad day in our household. On the bright side, that day will not be today. Sam only vomitated once today. She’s still having trouble in the litter box, and I’ve come to the conclusion that’s probably not going to get any better, not that any of her other problems are likely to improve either…

I think Lea has decided to take Sam to our veterinarian, Dr Betty, tomorrow to get her opinion on Sam. Dr Betty is a cute young Mexican woman. She looks like she’s thirteen years old, and barely stands five feet tall. I like standing near her because even I look like a giant compared to her. I’m going to go to the vet, too. Just in cases…

* * * *

When it comes to End of Life decisions, we have much better options with our pets than we have with ourselves. Lea and I have had this conversation, and several variations on it a few times. We’re not interested in the quantity of our lives, only the quality. Lea has often told me she doesn’t care about living to be one hundred. I’m not sure I’ve told her this, but there are days when I’m not sure I want to live another ten years.

You might think that odd, seeing how I’m retired and living in paradise with a supermodel, but it’s a vast improvement over the days when I did didn’t want to live another ten minutes.

Living Wills and Advanced Directives are legal documents where you can outline what types of medical treatments and interventions you would like in the event that you become incapacitated and can’t tell anyone that you don’t want to be placed on a respirator. Or that you don’t want any heroic measures taken to save your life.

My lovely supermodel wife and I have Living Wills in both the US and in Mexico. All we want is comfort meds to control pain. And that’s it. No CPR. No intubation. Nothing. Nada.

But you can’t request that a lethal combination of drugs be given to you when the quantity of your life exceeds the quality of it. And that’s where our pets have us beat all to hell. Their lives can be ended for humane reasons.

When it comes to our pets, we have the option of essentially putting them out of their misery and ending their suffering, an option that we, as people, do not have.

Pets can be euthanized.

* * * *

My youngest daughter, Abigail, once told me a story about her friend and his hamster. The average lifespan of a hamster is somewhere around two years, give or take six months to a year. So I’m guessing Herbie the hamster was around two years old, roughly, when her friend approached his dad one Sunday morning. And for some context, the kid was probably nine years old.

“Dad, something’s wrong with Herbie! We have to take him to the vet right away!”

Well,  it was only a hamster…  I mean, who takes a hamster to the vet? Hamsters are like unto goldfish, with fur. When they die, you flush the old one down the toilet and you buy a new one. And it was Sunday. The Vikings game was going to start any minute.

So dad did some quick thinking and explained the concept of Life and Death to his son, and the fact that the veterinarian’s office was closed, and emergency veterinarian services are very expensive.

“I think we need to do the humane thing, son.”

The humane thing dad came up with was gassing his son’s hamster. He pulled a kettle out of the cupboard, blew out the pilot light on one side of the stove top, placed Herbie under the kettle on one of the unlit burners, and turned on the gas.

“Are you sure Herbie’s not going to suffer?” the kid asked.

“No, he won’t suffer. In fact, this is how the vet would do it…” And he went into a detailed explanation of oxygen, carbon monoxide, hemoglobin and maybe even Krebs Cycle. That last part is something I vaguely remember from nursing school. It might have something to do with this topic, but don’t quote me on that.

Dad might have had the right idea to humanely terminate Herbie. He might have even been incredibly kind while he carefully described how death in the absence of oxygen occurs. But he was very stupid about one thing.

He forgot to blow out the pilot light on the other side of the stove top.

So, while dad was patiently and compassionately going through his explanation, gas fumes were traveling across the top of the stove to the burning pilot light. When they became concentrated enough…

You know what happens when propane gas fumes hit an open flame, don’t you?

There was a small explosion on the stove top. The kettle flew to the ceiling with a BANG! then clattered across the floor, followed by the shape of a hamster with patches of fur on fire flying through the air. Herbie the Flaming Hamster landed on the floor right in front of dear old dad, and he did what any guy would do when he sees a hamster on fire on his kitchen floor.

He stomped on the hamster.

Well, that reflexive reaction put the flames out. It also killed Herbie, if he hadn’t already died to death from being old, then gassed, kind of exploded, and sort of set on fire.

Okay. This might not be the best example of humane euthanasia for a pet. However, I thought this was one of the funniest true stories I’ve ever heard in my life, and it popped into my mind as I was writing.

I tend to go where my Muse takes me when I write. This is probably the only story I’ve written lately that I’ve given any thought to for more than half an hour, actually giving my Muse an opportunity for input. I should probably be more mindful when I write. A couple of my latest posts are incomplete because I forgot to write half the things I wanted to. Maybe I’ll go back and finish them someday…

I can only speak for myself, but I like the results much better when I listen to my Muse. Or Muses. Seeing how this may turn out to be tragic, Melpomene will be involved. But it’s also kind of funny, so let’s give Thalia a warm round of applause.

* * * *

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I have wanted to be a prophet for quite some time. And you also know it’s something I’ve essentially failed to achieve. So I doubt that I could predict the exact circumstances surrounding my death even if I wanted to.

Be that as it may, it doesn’t stop me from speculating about them.

I used to read the obituaries when I was a psych nurse, mostly to see if any of my former patients had died. Especially the ones I didn’t like very much.

There were a lots of people that died from an “unexpected heart attack.” Does anyone ever expect to die from a heart attack on any given day? And if you expected a heart attack, wouldn’t you do something to prevent it?

“Hey! Do you want to go golfing?”

“Okay, but we better go early. I’m planning on having a heart attack around two o’clock today…”

A lots of people died after a “courageous battle with cancer.” You won’t be able to say that about me. Nope. That sonuvabitch pretty much gave up when he found out he had cancer, and just surrendered to his fate. No chemo. No radiation. No surgery. He just wanted morphine.

In the event that the quality of my diminishes greatly before the quantity of it does, I’ve come up with a scenario to effect an humane end for my life. It involves my two darling daughters, Gwendolyn and Abigail, and a dog costume. And it goes something like unto this:

Gwen and Abi will come down here to Mexico, dress me in the dog costume, then take me to the veterinarian’s office.

“Buenos dias, I’m Doctor Ramirez. How can I help you ladies today?”

Abi: “It’s our dad, I mean, dog.”

Gwen: “Yes. Our dog is very old, and he’s in a lot of pain. He needs to be put down.”

Abi: “We thought about doing it ourselves, but I don’t think the stove top is big enough.”

Gwen: “And we don’t have a kettle big enough.”

Abi: “And we might accidentally blow up the house.”

Gwen: “And we really don’t want to do that…”

Abi: “It’s a rental house. The landlord probably wouldn’t appreciate that.”

Dr Ramirez: “I see, I think. How old is your dog?”

Abi: “He’s, like, eighty…”

Gwen: “In dog years.”

Dr Ramirez: “Yes, of course. He is old, then. What sort of symptoms is he having?”

Abi: “Well, he isn’t eating.”

Gwen: “He mostly sleeps a lot. And he’s incontinent. Can dogs be incontinent?”

Abi: “He doesn’t enjoy any of the things he used to do anymore. He doesn’t even watch football.”

Dr Ramirez: “Your dog watches football?”

Abi: “He used to watch it…with our dad…”

Gwen: “Back when he watched football. They did a lot of stuff together.”

Dr Ramirez: “Okay, can I see your dog? This doesn’t look like a dog! This looks like a man in a dog costume!”

Abi and Gwen: “No! He’s really a dog! He’s really old! And sick. He used to look better when he was younger! He really did!”

Abi: “And he spent so much time with our dad, they kind of started looking like each other, maybe.”

Dr Ramirez: “Well, yes. I have seen this before. Dogs and their owners can be very similar sometimes…  What’s your…dog’s…name?

Abi and Gwen: “Mark.”

Dr Ramirez: “This is a very strange name for a dog.”

Abi: “Well, he…has a cleft palate!”

Gwen: “Yes! And that’s the noise he made when he barked!”

Abi: “So that’s what we called him. Back when he used to bark…”

Gwen: “Yeah, he doesn’t even enjoy barking anymore.”

Abi: “He’s really old, and sick.”

Dr Ramirez: “Yes, and he needs to be put down. I get it. What kind of…dog…is he? I’ve been a vet for thirty years, and I have never seen a dog like this before.”

Abi: “Well, he’s Irish, so maybe Irish Setter?”

Dr Ramirez: “That is not an Irish Setter, I can assure you.”

Gwen: “No, he’s more of a mixed breed, right? He isn’t very big, so maybe he’s more of a Cocker Spaniel…”

Abi: “Those weiner dogs are short, too. Maybe he’s part weiner dog…”

Gwen: “Labrador?”

Abi: “Beagle?”

Gwen: “Collie?”

Abi: “Poodle?”

Gwen and Dr Ramirez: “What?!?”

Abi: “Well, everything is part poodle now, right?”

Gwen: “So, he’s an Irishcockerweiner…labra-boodle.”

Abi: “Probably.”

Dr Ramirez: “Okay! Let’s go into the exam room.”

Abi: “Come on, daddy, I mean, doggie. Get up on the table!”

Gwen: “You can do it, dad! I mean, boy. Good boy!”

Abi: “Oh! And he used to be an alcoholic, so you might have to double the meds when you put him down.”

Gwen: “Yes! He might have a greater tolerance! We don’t want to take any chances.”

Dr Ramirez: “Your dog…was an alcoholic?”

Abi: “Well, kind of…”

Gwen: “Um, yeah. He used to drink beer with our dad…”

Abi: “And watch football.”

Gwen: “You know, before he became old.”

Abi: “And sick.”

Gwen: “And stuff.”

Abi: “Okay. Let’s get this over with. Goodbye, da–doggie.”

Gwen: “Goodbye! We love you and we’ll miss you!”

Abi: “You were the best Irishcocker–  Oh, fuck it! You were the best golldarn dog we ever had. Vaya con Dios!

* * * *

And that’s how I’d like to go. As if I were in a skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It would only be fitting.

Gulliver’s Travels

Unlike Jonathan Swift, I’m not sure I’ve ever written anything that could be deemed noteworthy. I don’t think I have the proper amount of seriousness to do something like that on my own. I’m pretty sure I haven’t written anything that could even be called interesting of late. If you’re looking for something noteworthy in this post, let me save you some time. You won’t find it here.

I might write something noteworthy someday, but if I do, I’ll probably be the last person to know it. And it’ll probably be the biggest mistake I’ll ever make. If you don’t believe me, read some of my previous posts. There’s over one hundred of them to choose from…

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know that my lovely supermodel wife and I recently took a trip back to the States. It was our first return trip since retiring in Mexico.

If you don’t follow me on Facebook, you can send me a friend request, but my life on social media probably looks a whole lots more interesting than it actually is…

Other than me having a couple of allergic reactions to environmental stimuli in airports and sneezing into my shirt sleeve for about a thousand miles, and the cold that Lea came down with upon our return, our trip was a lots of fun and we had a great time.

We flew back to the States on Volaris Airlines. I don’t have a lots of experience flying on Mexican airlines, but from what I do know, Volaris is kind of the Mexican version of Frontier. The only difference is I don’t hate Volaris, and I loathe Frontier. The people treat you better in Mexico.

It’s a bit more complicated when you fly from Mexico back to the States. There’s the whole Customs thing. Not that it’s a big deal, because it’s not. There’s a show called Border Security on TV, and it makes international travel look like a blind date with the KGB. We’ve never had any problems flying to Mexico or back to the States.

In fact, the Culiacan airport had the most lax security I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Half of the staff looked like they were sleeping, and the other half looked like they just woke up. I probably could have smuggled an entire mule into the US from Culiacan if I could have trained it to sit in a chair and fasten a seat belt. If I owned a handgun, I probably could’ve taken it on the plane if I had told the sleepy looking young woman at the desk that it wasn’t loaded.

The main purpose of our trip was to attend Brea and Charlie’s Endless Wedding Celebration. I suppose it could be like unto Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, except I’ve never seen that movie, so I can’t really say what it’s about, but I’m going to guess that no one gets married in it.

We kind of figured Brea and Charlie would have a traditional wedding, you know, like normal people. I should have known better. I know Brea. I used to work with her. She’s one of my work daughters. My other work daughter was one of her bridesmaids. Brea is anything but normal. She’s extraordinary.

Brea and Charlie were married at Stonebridge Manor. It was without a doubt the most beautiful wedding I will ever attend in my life. Martha Stewart would’ve thought she’d died and gone to Wedding Heaven if she had been there. An elegant reception and brunch followed the beautiful and brief exchanging of vows and rings. In the evening there was an hors d’oeuvre bar and drinks at the Thirsty Lion Gastropub in the very fashionable Scottsdale Fashion Mall.

I ran into a few of the doctors I used to work with. A couple of them have been busy buying Ferraris. I know, right! Where the hell are you going to drive a Ferrari? You’re not taking it to the store when you run out of paper towels!

The next day, which I think was Friday, there was a party bike tour in downtown Scottsdale for the younger people who came to the wedding. If you’re like me and you have no idea what a party bike is, it’s essentially a bar on wheels propelled by any number of people pedaling while they drink at the mobile bar. You can Google it if you need more detailed information about this. On Saturday evening, there was a barbecue for anyone still able to stand at the Scottsdale Rotary Park.

I’ve had nothing but problems trying to figure out which day it is since we flew to Phoenix. Part of it is the change from Daylight Saving Time. I’ve never had this problem before, but that’s when it started. Mexico changes back to Daylight Standard Time one week before the US does. I’m still not sure how this one hour change ended up making me unsure which goddamn day of the week it is, but there you go.

And then Volaris changed the date of our return flight without telling us. If Lea wasn’t as OCD as she is, we wouldn’t have found out about that until we arrived at the airport on the wrong day. We were supposed to fly back on Tuesday, but ended up coming back on Monday. I think.

I thought yesterday was Friday, but now I’m pretty sure today is Friday. Lea tells me it is, and I trust her.

At any rate, there might have been more fun stuff associated with what will probably known as be the Social Event of Season, but that’s as much as I know. Lea and I had a great time, so thank you very much to Brea and Charlie. And we hope you two are as happy together as we are. May your marriage be blessed, and both of you as well.

* * * *

We had multiple reasons for traveling back to the States. As amazing as it is living in Mexico, there are some things that are difficult to obtain down here. A lots of ex-pats return to their country of origin to shop for things they can’t find and presumably can’t live without.

The first thing we did after we arrived in Phoenix and got into our rental car was drive halfway to California and ordered the largest pizza we could at Rosati’s Pizza, which is something I haven’t been able to find in Mexico, then we went to see Nikki and Jay and all of the stuff Lea ordered.

Lea bought a whole lots of things online and had them delivered to Nikki and Jay’s house. There were a whole lots of boxes. And bags. And bags in boxes. Our stuff covered one of Nikki’s kitchen counter tops. And then it filled the entire backseat of our rental car.

Rosati’s is our favorite pizza, it was the main reason we went there, but there was another reason. It was kind of a peace offering. Nikki and Jay are Packer fans. Lea and I are Vikings fans. Our team broke their all-star quarterback, and as a result the Packers are going to mostly suck for the rest of the season.

Pizza. It makes everything more better gooder. Even losing, maybe…

* * * *

If you’ve never been to the Phoenix area, it’s fucking huge. Our Packer fan friends live in the West Valley. The condo we had rented is in Fountain Hills, which is in the East Valley. It takes about an hour to drive from one side of the valley to the other.

The distances you had to drive are one of the things that fade from memory if you don’t do that kind of stuff on a regular basis. Almost any place we need to go in the Lakeside area is a five minute drive from our house. Another thing you forget is how wide and smooth the roads are. Honestly, driving on those roads was one of the most pleasant surprises about our trip.

Thankfully, we got to spend a whole lots of time driving on the very wide, very smooth and flat roads of the Phoenix area. In six days, we drove close to seven hundred miles, which is probably three hundred miles more than we’ve driven in the thirteen months since we’ve moved to Mexico.

After we ate a really big pizza, then packed all of our boxes and bags and stuff into our rental car and then drove for an hour as we headed east, we stopped at a supermarket near our condo in Fountain Hills and bought two pints of ice cream, coffee, coffee creamer and a bottle of Claritin. It cost over sixty dollars. That was an unpleasant surprise. Life is so much more inexpensive in Mexico. You could probably get all of those things, and a couple of tacos, for ten bucks down here.

Fountain Hills is a very beautiful, very affluent city. You really have to see the mansions built into the hillsides to truly appreciate them. Words, in this instance, just aren’t going to do it justice.

And, of course, there’s the fountain. It’s in a park near the downtown area. Our condo was right across the street from it. The fountain more or less erupts every hour from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM for about fifteen minutes, and shoots jets of water roughly 300 feet into the air. At night, it’s lit up. It’s pretty cool, for a fountain.

We did have some official business to take care of while we were in the States. We had to have our new Last Will and Testament notarized. Nikki and Jay graciously agreed to be our witnesses. Afterwards, we all went to the bowling alley to eat walleye. I guess you can find bowling alleys in some of the larger cities in Mexico, but there are none in the Lakeside area, nor can you find a walleye dinner here.

* * * *

So, there was a fabulously elegant wedding. Shopping. Pizza. Friends. Walleye. And more friends. Lea and I saw as many people as we could in the short amount of time we were there.

I even did something I wasn’t planning on doing. I went back to work. Okay, I didn’t actually work. I only visited my last employer, but one of my former co-workers did ask me if I could work for her on Friday.

Nurses. Gotta love them.

Work, it seems, has changed quite a bit since I retired. We rarely had any open beds when I worked at Aurora Behavioral Health, but several new hospitals have opened, and a couple more are being built. While this is good news for the people who need psychiatric help, it’s not good news for the people who manage psychiatric hospitals.

Something has to give, and not all of those places are going to survive. You can oversaturate any market, and that will very likely happen in Phoenix in a year or two. And then there won’t be enough psychiatric beds available, and everything will be right back where it was once more.

I know I’ve said this before, but I do not miss working for a living. At all. However, I was more than a little surprised by how many people said they missed working with me. That was actually very humbling, and anyone who knows me knows that I am not a humble guy.

So thank you all so very much for that, but I’m more than satisfied with my current position and I have no intention of changing that any time soon.

* * * *

Along with all of the cyber-shopping Lea did before we returned to the States, she wanted to do some real time shopping, so we did that, too. There are no Target® stores in the Lakeside area, nor are there any Kohl’s®. I’m not sure I can say I missed shopping at either one of those places.

I’m a guy, and guys don’t love shopping. Most of the time. Unless it’s for big screen TV’s or home theater systems. There were plenty of things I could have purchased, but there wasn’t anything I needed, so I ended up wandering around a lots looking at things I wasn’t going to purchase.

It was still kind of nice to sort of go shopping. All of the stores had their Christmas displays up, and some of the stores might have been playing Christmas music.

I love Christmas, even if it starts right after Halloween nowadays.

Lea bought a few things, on sale of course, but not as many as I thought she would. Even she was surprised by how little she bought in the stores. I’d have to call that a pleasant surprise as well.

In between traveling from one side of the valley to the other side of the valley, we hung out at our cozy condo in Fountain Hills and watched American TV. The only real difference I could see between American and Canadian shows is they don’t talk about Canadia as much on American TV.

* * * *

With what time that remained in the States, we spent catching up with our friends and our spiritual family at Joe’s Church. Okay, it’s really called Just Church, and it meets at Imagine Prep in Surprise, AZ. Lea and I used to be greeters there. I wandered over to Einstein Corner where I used to greet and took a selfie of myself and Brother Al.

Little Known Fact About My Lovely Supermodel Wife: she has really weird dreams. Prior to our return trip to the States, she had a dream that we went to our old church. And no one spoke to us. Not the pastor. Not his wife. Nor any of our friends.

Luckily, my wife doesn’t have any prophetic talent either, and a lots of people talked to us, including the pastor. And his wife. And all of our friends. We invited all of them to come to Mexico, just not all at the same time.

* * * *

It’s football season, and the Vikings played the Redskins while we were in town, so we went to a sports bar to watch the game. Bill Sbiliris, one of the docs I used to work with met us there. So did Deb Goral, one of the nurses I used to work with.

Bill is a Vikings fan, so we had a great time watching the Vikings beat the Redskins on a really, really big TV. Deb is a Packers fan. Maybe I should have bought her a pizza…  But her team won that day, too, so she was happy, even without pizza.

There was another person/former co-worker who was supposed to meet us. Karen Rae Goff, one of my favorite social workers. But Karen forgot she was going to a NASCAR race when she said she’d come to the game, and then she remembered the race when she remembered that she hates football.

Maybe next time, Karen.

* * * *

We deliberately packed light when we flew back to the States so we’d have a lots of room in our luggage for the stuff Lea had purchased to bring back to Mexico, and that was a very good idea. We bought a lots of stuff. When we first saw all of the boxes and bags and more bags and boxes, Lea and I both thought we’d have to buy another suitcase to get all of our stuff home. Thanks to some creative packing, we were able to fit it all in our existing luggage, and even more surprising, we weren’t overweight on any of our luggage.

That was a very pleasant surprise.

And now we’re home once more, and it’s good to be home. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s always good to be home. I have grown accustomed to my very stress-free lifestyle, and so has my lovely supermodel wife.

Everyone we talked to said Hell had a more mild summer than they had in Phoenix this year. It does get incredibly hot there.

Yeah, really unfortunate we missed that…

I’m sure we’ll travel back to the good old USA again someday, but neither Lea nor I want to be in Minnesota during the winter, or in Arizona during the summer. I’m sure Lea will plan accordingly, unless it’s some kind of dire emergency.

Life can do that to you sometimes. No matter how well you prepare for it, Life will surprise you.

Till We Get the Healing Done

If you’ve never listened to the above album, I highly recommend it. Good stuff. The title of this post is one of the songs on the album.

* * * *

I’ve said something like unto this in many of my posts, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. And while that is true on a superficial level, I’ve been a victim of the total agony of love only three times in my life.

Apparently that adage about the third time being the charm is true. Lea was the third of my deep loves. Maureen was the first. There was a second gal I might write about someday, we’ll see…

My lovely supermodel wife and I have been together for almost three decades, but there was a time when we almost didn’t make it.

It happened in 1995. We had survived our vacation from Hell in April. Lea had survived abdominal surgery #4 the year before, but she ended up having an ileostomy with an external pouch. That small, but enormous, detail changed everything in my wife’s world.

She fucking hated it and everything about it. She never felt comfortable with the external pouch, and it showed. She almost always looked tense and tightly wrapped, and she had been like that before she had anything to worry about. My lovely supermodel wife took it to a new level, and her self image was altered on a level even I couldn’t comprehend.

By chance, she saw a very small advertisement in the Sunday newspaper about the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir, and decided to go to the seminar. After that, she was a woman on a mission.

The BCIR is a surgically created internal pouch. Google it if you need more information. I’m pretty sure that’s what I had to do, but the bottom line is if she had this surgery, her external pouch would be replaced by an internal pouch made out of a portion of her small bowel. There are only a few hospitals in the United States that perform the procedure. Lea’s gastroenterologist was more than happy to write a referral for her. Then she took on our healthcare insurance company.

Our insurance company thought it was an elective surgery, but Lea was able to convince them it wasn’t just a cosmetic surgery in her case, and she had recommendations from her her doctor and her employer backing her up. For all I know, Lea is the only person that has ever achieved this. Blue Cross/Blue Shield finally agreed to foot the bill and they covered the entire procedure.

All. Of. It. And it wasn’t cheap.

Lea’s boss was far more supportive of her than my horrible boss would ever be. He went to bat for her to help get the insurance company on board, and he approved the month she’d need off for her surgery, and an additional two months for recovery and rehab without so much as a blink.

The BCIR people expected anyone having their very specialized surgery to bring one support person along for the ride, so to speak. In lieu of me, our darling daughter, Abigail, flew to Florida with her mother to be at her side during the surgery and recovery program. They would be in St Petersburg, FL for three weeks in August.

* * * *

It wasn’t the three weeks apart that was the last straw. It wasn’t even another surgery. Lea appeared to be stabilizing from her lengthy major flare up of Crohn’s disease, and it was slowly becoming quiescent. But…  She had appeared to improve in the past, only to take two or three steps back each time.

My buddy, Dan, was working a job in the Twin Cities area at that time, and he crashed at our house during the week, and drove home for the weekends. We spent most evenings while my wife and daughter were out of town drinking beer and talking about guy stuff. And even our discussions weren’t what pushed me over the edge.

Dan is my friend, and a good guy, but he didn’t understand the disease or its pathology. Nor was he in love with my wife anywhere near as much as I was. But he could probably see how worn out I was better than I could. He mostly wanted to see me happy again.  So, we drank and joked and laughed, and I have to admit, it felt really good just to be able to do that.

I would turn forty in 1995. In a previous post I stated that my drinking problem started becoming more of a problem when I turned forty, and five years later it would be totally out of control. I cannot discount my alcohol abuse as a factor in my mindset, as much as I would like to. But neither can I blame everything on it, although that would make the rest of this story so much easier.

For three years Lea’s illness tore up our lives, much like it tore up her body. She almost died at least three times, if not more. We had somehow gotten through the worst Crohn’s could throw at us, and we were both still standing, if barely.

Lea was getting better, maybe, hopefully, possibly, probably–I was afraid to think anything would ever get better on the offhand chance that thinking it would jinx everything, and we’d have to start all over again. For all I know, Lea was equally spooked and gun-shy. I can’t imagine she felt any different than I did in this regard.

The simple truth was this: I was completely exhausted from three years of essentially neverending high stress levels, living in two hospitals and visiting our house, and wondering if this was the time that her illness would win out and claim another victim.

I hadn’t run out of love for my wife. I’d run out of everything else.

* * * *

I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to go to Florida with Lea. We talked every day, and she gave me daily status updates. The surgery went as smoothly as it could. She had never had such effective post-op pain control in her life. The nurses were as good as the nurses at Fairview Medical Center, or better. She was in good hands, she was doing as more better gooder as anyone could expect, and I felt like I could relax for the first time in three years.

The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the hurricane that was going to hit Florida while Lea and Abi were there. I had never been in an hurricane, and I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to see that.

Hurricanes don’t make it to Minnesota. Remnants of hurricanes did make it to the Phoenix area while we were there, but the remnant of a hurricane is a rainstorm, and I’ve seen plenty of those in my lifetime. I doubt I’ll encounter an hurricane down here in the Lakeside area.

Lea said it was a pretty uneventful event to her. The hospital was constructed to withstand the winds of an hurricane; neither she nor Abi were in any real danger, but just in cases the staff were ready to evacuate everyone at a moment’s notice. Lea said she’d never seen rain like that before in her life. Abi mostly slept through Hurricane Erin.

The rest of Lea’s hospitalization went smoothly, and my girls came back home.

* * * *

I’m sure my memories of this aren’t completely clear, mostly because I don’t want to remember it. I’ve asked my wife to help fill in the blanks in my memory. It seems to me that within a couple of days of returning to Minnesota, Lea was back in the hospital.

That, was the last straw for me.

I made an appointment with a divorce attorney. His initial consultation was free, and he said it was always easier to try to work things out with your spouse than to get a divorce. Lea had owned our house before we got married, and she would keep the house if we didn’t stay married. He told me to seriously think it through, and to contact him again if I needed him.

Then I drove to the hospital to tell my wife I wanted a divorce.

* * * *

I really had no idea what I was going say. In the first two times I’d been deeply in love, it wasn’t my idea to end the relationship. And I was beyond conflicted regarding my intentions with Lea. We weren’t just in a relationship, we’d been married for almost seven years.

Not only that, I was her mother’s angel, and by default, I had become her father’s angel, too. That’s not the kind of thing you just blithely walk away from.

We had survived three years of pretty much living hell, life and death, endless illness and hospitalizations. It’s possible Lea checked herself into the hospital when she returned home because it was probably the safest place in the world for her. I have no doubt–even though she was improving and she’d just had a surgery that would greatly improve her life–she was scared out of her mind.

To this day, I am amazed and humbled by the dignity and grace she demonstrated when she was so incredibly ill. I know I could never have done that. Lea’s nurses loved her. If our positions had been switched, my nurses probably would’ve thrown me down the stairwell.

Nonetheless, I informed my lovely supermodel wife I had met with a divorce attorney. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her, I just couldn’t live on the edge anymore.

Lea was probably surprised, but I think there was also a part of her that had been expecting something like unto it. Women are spooky that way. She cried a little, but mostly we talked. She regrouped quickly and gave me an option I hadn’t considered.

“Give me six months. I’ll either conquer this, or it’ll kill me. But give me that much time, and then decide what you want to do. Give me six months. If you still want a divorce then, I won’t even fight you.”

Writing this, it seems like a pretty good option to me, and I probably jumped at it as an acceptable alternative to divorce and being homeless. I didn’t really want to get a divorce, I just wanted something like my life, and my wife, back. However, at the time I didn’t think I’d have either.

Lea says I rejected her option. And left. She called her dad and told him what happened and cried on the phone for hours. As emotionally distant as Dave was, I can only imagine his response. Lea says he didn’t have any idea what to say or do.

I have no problem believing that part of her story. Dave was the Mount Everest of emotional isolation. Not even Tenzing Norgay would’ve been willing to scale that emotional wilderness.

It was probably one of the worst nights either of us had to endure. Lea probably cried herself to sleep. I’m not sure I slept. But when I went to the hospital the next day I gave her an option that must have come to me in the middle of the night.

“I can’t watch you die anymore, but I’ll give you three months.”

I had no hope I could last that long. I had no hope she would either.

* * * *

In retrospect, this is one example of God answering prayers in His perfect time. When hope fades, and all else is crumbling around you, God remains. Lea was released from the hospital. It would be the last time she was admitted for a Crohn’s related inflammatory process.

I’m not sure that was a miracle, or if the beast in her belly had finally worn itself out. But either way, our prayers were heard, and answered.

The worst three years of our lives had ended without fanfare. Even if there had been fanfare, I doubt I would’ve believed it. It would probably take me at least a year, or more, to relax and stop waiting for any more shoes to drop. I think when this chapter of our lives finally closed forever, it felt like I’d been hit by Imelda Marcos’ entire shoe closet.

Lea’s been hospitalized for other reasons, mostly blood transfusions secondary to incredibly low hemoglobin levels. Lea’s gut is kind of like unto the Kīlauea volcano, she’s more or less constantly oozing blood, and it’s something that needs to be monitored even today. But the beast in her belly had finally run its course, and while it has reared its head from time to time, it has never tried to devour her from the inside out since 1995.

Flash forward twenty-two years. We’re still together. We can’t imagine our lives any other way. And that BCIR thing Lea fought so hard for, it was worth it. It would’ve been worth it if we had had to pay twice the amount our insurance company did ourselves. It’s made an huge difference in Lea’s life. I’m not sure how she would’ve recovered to the extent she has without it.

Thank you, honey, for giving me an option that was brilliant on the level of something that only a genius could’ve come up with. Thank you for staying with me when I totally lost it and tried drinking myself into a coma. Thank you for supporting me when I finally decided to get a grip and face my demons.

It’s been mostly sweet, and you were the sweetest of all. I wish we’d have another thirty years together.

Fine Dining

Back before I became a nurse, and a married guy, my idea of fine dining was anything my mom cooked. Well, there was Prom. I went to three Proms, and I took my dates to really nice restaurants.

I doubt many high school kids read my blog, but you’re an young man in high school, and you’re planning on going to the Prom, don’t take your date to Denny’s® if you want to get laid. You’re not even going to cop a feel if that’s the best you can do.

My lovely supermodel wife would introduce me to the concept of fine dining, and fashion, and style, and taste. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be anywhere near as suave and sophisticated as I’ve become if not for her. Provided I’ve actually become either one of those things. It’s hard to tell with me.

I’m not sure when my education in the Culinary Arts began, but I remember it as the first time we went to Morton’s of Chicago.

If you’ve never been to Morton’s, start saving some cash now, and make a reservation. You’ll probably need both, especially the cash. Fine dining doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s rarely cheap, so keep that in mind.

Most fine dining establishments have a dress code, though that’s changing. But I would recommend getting dressed up. It should be a special experience, and you’ll want to dress accordingly.

Morton’s has an à la carte menu. It’s a French term meaning, ordered by separate items. I thought it meant from the cart because a very attractive young woman came to our table with a cart that had a lots of food on it, and that’s how we ordered our meal.

On her cart was an amazing array of steaks and vegetables, and the largest lobster I had ever seen. The very attractive young woman would pick up an attractive steak wrapped in clear plastic, and describe it in glowing terms.

It was the first time I had seen a presentation like it, and I was enthralled. The very attractive young woman was wearing a very stylish low cut black mini dress, and she had really big…eyes. I loved watching her bend over to pick up the next very attractive steak and describe it.

And I loved watching her catch the lobster.

Little Known Fact About Live Losbsters in an à la Carte Menu Presentation: lobsters can’t be trained to sit and stay, like a dog. The very attractive young woman explained that the lobsters were usually semi-frozen because a cold lobster tends to not try to run away, but she had been displaying steaks and stuff for awhile, and this lobster was pretty thawed out. All he wanted to do was get back to the nearest ocean.

So, the very attractive young woman with the really big eyes would hold up a very attractive steak and describe it in glowing terms, then reach for the lobster and put it back on a silver tray before it jumped off of the cart and scurried under the nearest table.

It was so darlingpreshadorbs, and I wouldn’t know that term even existed until I met my darling work daughters about twenty years later.

The very attractive young woman was able to complete her descriptions of the very attractive steaks, and keep the lobster from escaping by bending over a lots and placing the runaway lobster back on the silver tray.

I was actually praying the lobster would escape because I would’ve loved to have seen the very attractive young woman crawl on the floor trying to catch the lobster in that slinky, skintight mini dress she was wearing. I probably would’ve started throwing money at her, which my lovely supermodel wife told me would’ve been incredibly inappropriate.

And then the very attractive young woman showed us the vegetables we could order as side dishes.

“This is our baked potato. It’s from Idaho, of course.” she said, holding up a potato about the size of a fucking football.

“There’s no way I could eat that.” I replied, and ordered the broccoli. When my meal was served, I got two heads of broccoli. Clearly, conservation of resources isn’t a big priority at places like Morton’s.

I have dined at a lots of really exceptional restaurants over the years. The food is usually to die for, and the service is almost always beyond compare. I’m sure it was also expensive as hell. It’s called fine dining for a reason.

I’ve had better meals than the one I had at Morton’s. I’ve even had better steaks, which is my idea of Nature’s perfect food. But our experience at Morton’s is at the top of my list of great dining experiences.

I absolutely loved that presentation with the runaway lobster. And I still wish he had gotten away.

A New Year

2016 was a strange year, for a multitude of reasons. Celebrity deaths by the dozens. And somehow, none of them were Kardashians. How the hell did that happen? Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States. How the…

I could go on, but…why?

While I can’t predict much of what’s going to happen next year, I’m absolutely sure more famous people will die in 2017. But it doesn’t take any special talent in prediction to be able to make a statement as bold as that.

None of us are getting out of this game alive.

2016 was an especially strange year for me and my lovely supermodel wife. At the beginning of the year, we were planning on remaining in the workforce for five more years, give or take. Then Lea’s employer decided to go through a major reorganization, and she was reorganized out of her job.

Our oldest daughter, the beautiful and talented Gwendolyn, is a Certified Financial Planner. I had given her the keys to my 401K many years ago, and also gave her a little motivational speech.

“If you make a lots of money for me, I won’t move in with you.” 

It would appear that Gwendolyn was very motivated by my speech, and she did quite well managing our retirement plans. When Lea found out she was going to be reorganized out of her job, the first person she called was her daughter/financial planner. Gwen crunched the numbers, and suggested we retire.

It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Fast forward seven months, and we’re living in Mexico. If you had asked me five years ago where I’d be today, this place wouldn’t have even been on the list. Now, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

I’m clearly not a psychic. As my wife is fond of reminding me, I can’t read your mind! I’m not sure I can either. Hell, I don’t know what I’m thinking half of the time.

This is perhaps one of the reasons I have not yet become a prophet. My track record for predictions hasn’t been all that impressive, not that I’ve predicted a lots of things.

In fact, I can think of only one thing. I predicted the Green Bay Packers would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl five years ago.

I was walking to my car after work on Super Bowl Sunday in 2011, when a voice in my head informed me the Packers would win. And I know that probably sounds a little weird, but I have no other term to describe it. I am not a Packer fan. I had not given any prior thought to the outcome of the game. And out of the blue, The Packers will win the game today.

My first response was, Seriously? Of all the things you could tell me, this is the best you could do? Then I called my buddy, Paul Anderson, because he’s a huge Packer fan, and told him his team would win. If you don’t believe me, you can ask him. Here’s his cellphone number: (715) 222-8120.

According to the Bible, it’s quite easy to determine if a prophet is a true prophet or a false prophet. If the event a prophet predicted happens, that’s a true prophet. If not…

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

That said, I’m not sure I qualify as a prophet of any significance. I’m sure there were a lots of people that predicted the Packers would win that game. But I’ll let you know if that voice in my head ever has anything else to say.

* * * *

The Lakeside area we retired to is pretty much heaven on earth. In fact, if I hadn’t had a spinal meltdown, I might think I had died and went to Heaven. Except I don’t believe we go to Heaven after we die.

So it’s probably a good thing I fucked up my back. I’m not sure I’d be able to reconcile my reality with my expectations.

Lea and I have been adjusting to our new lives. We’ve met a lots of really nice people that retired down here, so we decided to invite a few of them over tomorrow. We’re hosting a New Year’s party that my second retirement wife, Phyllis Gholson, is planning.

And yes, you read that correctly. Not only did I collect an harem of work wives back when I was gainfully employed, I’ve started collecting retirement wives now that I’m gainfully unemployed. I have no explanation for this phenomenon. Other than the fact that I’m irresistible to women.

One of my female bosses actually told me that during one of my performance reviews back when I worked at MVAMC.

Or, I’m the gender neutral, nonthreatenng big brother/spouse they never had or lack now.

Phyllis and Lea are best friends. They’re actually quite a bit alike. Their tastes and sensibilities are similar. They’re both very logical and analytical. So now I have two women telling me I can’t do something.

And if not for a series of events that revolved around Phyllis, we wouldn’t be here now, or probably ever. Nor would our transition to Mexico have gone anywhere near as smoothly as it has. Phyllis more or less found the house we’re living in for us. She introduced us to her friends, and they’re becoming our friends. As a result, I more or less adopted Phyllis as my second wife, and I’ve started introducing as such.

It’s good for a laugh.

I am a comedian at heart. I often thought of going to a comedy club and taking the stage, but I never got around to it when I lived in the States. There’s no such thing as a comedy club in the Lakeside area, so the likelihood of it happening has greatly decreased. Besides, my Spanish isn’t all that muy bien yet.

And everything is funnier in Spanish for some reason…

* * * *

May 2017 be kind to you, especially if you read my blog. I sometimes wonder if anyone reads what I write. I’ve received a few comments about some of my posts. One guy told me I didn’t have enough pictures, and my stories had, you know, too many words.

I replied that I wasn’t trying to entertain, you know, fifth graders. I haven’t heard back from him.

I hope the next year will be a good year, though I’m sure it will have its share of challenges, trials and sorrows.  They all do, don’t they? And if the worst befalls you, may you have the strength and support you need to see you through.

I hope 2017 will bring the fulfillment of some of your dreams, but not all of them. A life without dreams isn’t much of a life.

I hope you will have all the wealth you need next year. And that your health isn’t a major issue. Never take good health for granted. It is a gift beyond measure.

Find peace and beauty in the simple things, and you will find an endless supply of both. You will be happier and more content than you could believe possible.

Don’t forget to thank God for your blessings, and remember this: many blessings initially look like a crisis. Don’t panic. Take a couple deep breaths. Most of the things I thought were castastrophic when they happened turned out to be no big deal a few months later.

Never be afraid to learn something new, like, speaking Spanish.

You may unexpectedly find yourself in Mexico someday, too.

Feliz año nuevo, one and all.

One of the Girls

Nursing is a primarily female dominated profession. There are probably a few others, but I wouldn’t know much about them, except strippers. I dated a few fabric free shoe models, back before I got married. And I probably spent a few hundred bucks or more hanging out in stripper bars, back when I drank.

I have an immense amount of respect for strippers. And nurses. For completely different reasons. Though, there are a few nurses I worked with that I wouldn’t have minded seeing as strippers. And then I would have doubly respected them.

Nurses are a breed apart. Not just anyone can handle being a nurse. It’s a tough job, and even the strongest nurses will have days when all they can do is go home and cry.

As a result, you make strong attachments to anyone that will help you get through your shift in one piece. You develop a level of trust with those people that transcends almost any other relationship you’ll have.

And as a result of that trust, you will sometimes hear the strangest things as a nurse, from other nurses.

“Ooh! I like your shirt! The bra and panties I’m wearing today are the same color!”

“My pee smells like coffee.”

“I’m having an affair.”

“My vagina is hemorrhaging blood!”

“My daughter’s boyfriend beat me up and broke my arm.”

“I just found out my husband has been having sex with our daughter.”

“I have cancer…”

Or, my personal favorite, “I have multiple orgasms.”

I mean, how are you supposed to respond to that? Well, this is how I did: “Um, yeah, me too.”

It wasn’t always pretty, or funny. As a guy, I wasn’t completely comfortable hearing about all the bodily functions of my female co-workers, or what they were doing with their bodies.

“Mark! I was sooo sick last night! I was puking my guts out, and I had diarrhea, at the same time!”

Yeah, it was like that. Especially when Shark Week rolled around. Shark Week was nursing code for when someone was hemorrhaging blood out of their vagina. But many of my female co-workers seemingly couldn’t contain their excitement when they had news to tell me.

I asked one of my vaginally hemorrhaging co-workers why she seemed to take so much delight in telling me about the most personal details of her life.

“I’m a guy. I don’t want to hear about that stuff.”

“Oh. I kind of think of you as one of the girls.”

Yeah, every guy wants to hear those words. But I should note that one of the ward clerks I worked with once described me as ladylike.

I needed a deeper explanation of that, and this is what she said: You’re very polite, and considerate. You have very good manners.

I had a response for her: Yeah, there’s another term for that. It’s called being a gentleman.

I was seemingly the safe sounding board for my female co-workers to tell their problems to. Especially when it came to their relationships. Bad boyfriends. Abusive husbands. Problem children. Problem dogs. I heard about them all. In detail.

Most of my colleagues weren’t seeking advice or counsel. They just wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen. But there are always exceptions.

One of my fellow nurses, Ann, would corner me in the Med Room and tell me all about her toxic relationship with her boyfriend, and then she’d ask me what she should do.

“I’m not giving you anymore advice.”

“Why not? You’re a smart guy.”

“Yes. And you’re a smart girl. You already know what to do.”

“But, your opinion means a lot to me. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“Look, you’ve asked me for my opinion before, right?”

“Yes…”

“And have you done anything I’ve suggested?”

“No…”

“Okay. There you go. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

And then we would go through the same thing the following day. By the way, my advice to Ann was to dump her loser boyfriend. I don’t know what she ended up doing. She resigned her position, and was replaced by the nurse who had multiple orgasms.

As much as I disliked Ann, I fucking hated her replacement, that little troll.

Nurses, as wonderful and brilliant as they are, tend to make terrible decisions regarding their personal lives. I don’t know why that is. Even the nurses that make the terrible decisions probably couldn’t tell you why they make the ridiculous choices they make. But the answer might be something as simple as desperation.

“I want to meet a nice guy, and get married. I want babies, I want a family! I want a normal life!”

Yes. A normal life. Because the life of a nurse is anything but normal. Nurses work long hours, and then pick up an extra shift. A quiet day at work? What is that? If you could really work your ass off, it’d be easy to pick a nurse out of a crowd.

Nurses answer endless questions, answer call lights, dress wounds, check blood sugars, administer meds, respond to codes, save lives, and shed a tear when a life ends.

Nurses are tough, and smart, and dedicated. You have to love your job to be a nurse, or the job will eat you alive. And that’s why nurses want nothing more than a normal personal life. You can take only so much insanity in one day.

I don’t miss the crazy nurse life. I did that for thirty years. I’m quite content to read about the wild stuff that happened on social media. And I really don’t miss Shark Week.

I do miss the people. I genuinely loved and respected most of the people I worked with at Aurora, my last employer. They were probably the best group of people I worked with in my career, and I’ve worked with some of the best.

There’s been a management change at Aurora, and while I respected the former DON there, I absolutely love the new DON. I wish all of the people at Aurora a blessed and successful 2017.

I’ll try to keep up with you on Facebook. When you come visit, we’ll have a Girls Night Out.

The Island of Misfit Toys

I’ve been doing some musing about Christmas lately. Back when I was a nurse, I worked almost every Christmas. In fact, this is only the third Christmas Lea and I have spent together without me working.

We still celebrated the holiday, but my schedule would almost always dictate the timing of anything we did.

I spent twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine Christmases hanging out with people in the hospital who had no place better to be, mostly because they were caught up in a cycle of gloom and doom, generally because of the choices they made. Like Jacob Marley, they were busy making the chains that bound them.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

I’m watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this Christmas morning. My favorite part of the show is The Island of Misfit Toys. It was where I worked. I thought it was an appropriate monicker, and certainly nicer than some of the other names given to psych units.

I didn’t look at myself as a misfit, even though I am perhaps the King of the Misfits. I’ve had trouble finding my place in the world most of my life. Feeling comfortable in my own skin was something I had never been able to do, until recently, and even that has been difficult of late given the problems I’ve had with my back and neck.

And I like Yukon Cornelius, too. It’s hard not to like him.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I have both been doing a lots of thinking about Christmases past this year. It’s our first Christmas in Mexico, the first Christmas of our retired lives. If we were isolated from our families when we lived in Arizona, well, this is taking that to a whole ‘nother level. If Christmas is meant to be spent with the people you love, then this Christmas has been bittersweet for both of us.

My family mostly lives in Minnesota. Both of our girls are up in the Great White North right now, spending Christmas with their Other Dad. Wait. Maybe that’s me. He’s their Real Dad. Either way, they’re about three thousand miles away.

And that’s probably been the toughest part of Christmas for us this year. I scroll through my Facebook page, and see all my friends’ posts with the tree and presents and family. And I am jealous.

You never miss something until its gone. I am relearning the truth of those words this year. And there are so many things, and so many people, that I am missing a lots this year.

When you’re young, you lack the capacity to see just how stupid you are. I took so many things for granted. When you’re young, you think nothing is ever going to change, and then life changes everything.

My mother died in 2007. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She decorated her house with enough lights and garland and trinkets to make Santa feel shamed. I used to look at spending the Christmas holiday with my parents as one of those odious and contemptible things I had to do. Like working for a living, and paying taxes.

I quit drinking the year before my mom died. I remember that first trip to my parents’ house to tell them. My dad offered me a beer when I walked in the house. I can still see the stunned look on his face when I told him I was an alcoholic, and I had quit drinking. Forever.

“I didn’t know you had a drinking problem!” he said.

My mother was sitting at the kitchen table next to my dad. She turned her eyes to the heavens and whispered, “Thank God!” She later told me it was the best Christmas present I could have ever gotten her.

Merry Christmas, Mom. It’s been ten years now. Sorry it took me so long to get my head out of my ass, and I’m really sorry for the shit I put you through.

* * * *

The Christmas holiday is celebrated very differently in Mexico than it is in the States. American Christmas has become a commercialized celebration of material excess. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday. None of these things existed in my youth, and they have become monsters.

American Christmas, sadly seems to have become more about the stuff than the substance. When saying, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays is an issue, there’s a problem.

No one camps out in front of the Walmart down here. There’s no such thing as Black Friday in the Lakeside area. Mexican Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Each neighborhood has a little posada. Two children are dressed up like Joseph and Mary, and they might be riding a burro. They go from house to house looking for a place to spend the night, and they’re turned away.

One house in the neighborhood is preselected as the party house. They welcome the weary travelers in, and it’s fiesta time! The parties last all night. There’s a lots of music, food and drink, and bonfires and fireworks.

Honestly, Lea and I wonder how any work ever gets done down here because there are something like seven hundred holidays in Mexico, and there are varying degrees of celebration that correspond with each of them.

But fireworks are seemingly mandatory for all of them.

Mexican fireworks aren’t the same as American fireworks, which are kind of pretty and spectacular. Mexicans are particularly fond of a kind of rocket called a cohetone. It’s essentially an half of stick of dynamite that shoots into the sky and explodes.

Loudly.

These incredibly loud fireworks are fired off almost every day of the year down here for seemingly any and every reason imaginable.

My first week in Mexico made me think I was back in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and I have never been in Vietnam. I have kind of a bitch of a case of PTSD, and I am particularly sensitive to loud, unexpected noises. One of my neighbors is very fond of fireworks. I’ve been thinking about becoming an hitman again…

It was a very long night for the Mexican locals. The parties lasted all night. A veritable artillery explosion greeted the rising sun, and now it’s quiet. Christmas Day in Mexico is essentially a day of rest–all the Mexicans in this area have been celebrating their asses off for about the last two months–and eating leftovers. Small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually rather sweet and beautiful.

* * * *

As much as I miss my family, and especially my girls, I don’t want to give the impression Lea and I are sitting around the house contemplating suicide. Because we’re not.

We’ve made a few friends down here, thanks to Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis are best friends, and we retired in Ajijic because of her. I tell everyone we moved here to become Phyllistines, and it seems to be the truth.

Phyllis has been here several years. Actually, there’s a whole lots of Americans and Canadians living down here, and we’re getting to know some of them.

We went to Jim and Veronica’s house last night. They have an absolutely gorgeous home that should be declared a national treasure and an historical work of art. I almost feel like making the Sign of the Cross and genuflecting when I’m at their place.

They actually have an antique confessional in their living room. I thought about going in it once, but I haven’t been to confession in over forty years. I’m going to be in there for a long time. And it might burst into flames…

Today, we’re going to Casa del Castleman, the home of Al and Jane. They’re one of the couples we’ve met as Phyllistines. Jane and Lea seem to be cut from the same cloth, so Jane is an easy person for me to like.

Al seems to be kind of a character, so I’m sure I’ll like him a lots once we get to know each other better. Last night, Al probably had the quote of the evening.

“Grunge rock is the greatest music of all time.”

What do you expect? We’re old. And we mostly hate young people. I think the only grunge rock song I like is Come as You Are by Nivana.

I invited him to come over and listen to the Icelandic rap music my crazy neighbor plays. Al didn’t know that was a musical genre either.

“I think rap music is a bunch of people bitching about stuff.” Al said.

“Yeah, but when they do it in Icelandic, you’re not sure what they’re bitching about.” But it sounds kind of cool.

Well, it’s about time to go to today’s get-together. And I’ve been working on keeping my blogs short since I finished my Dallas series. More than anything else, I attribute that series to messing up my spine.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

XOXO,

Mark

What’s in a Name?

When my youngest daughter, Gail, was nineteen years old, she decided she wanted to change her name to Abigail. I’m not sure why she wanted to do it, but she had given it a lots of thought, and it was important to her.

My lovely supermodel wife wasn’t exactly pleased with her daughter’s decision. She had also given a lots of thought to the name she had christened her youngest daughter with, and she didn’t like the idea of this whole name change thing. In fact, Lea took four days to find the perfect name for her second daughter. Lea and Steve had planned on naming her Sara, but…

“She doesn’t look like a Sara…” Lea said. They went through a lots of names before they settled on Gail. And what sold Lea on the name was one simple thing. “Yes, it’s perfect! She looks like a Gail.”

And she thinks I’m crazy…

“At least she’s not changing her name to Unicorn.” I said. “Or Butterfly. Or Queen Elizabeth III. Or Zeke. It could be so much worse.”

“I still don’t have to like it.” was Lea’s response.

Regardless of what anyone thought, Gail had made up her mind. She filed all the appropriate documentation, and made an appointment for Name Change Court. In order to legally change her name, she needed two witnesses to testify on her behalf. She chose Lea and I to represent her. Despite her feelings, Lea agreed to do this for her daughter.

* * * *

Changing your name is a relatively simple process in Minnesota. You have to be at least eighteen years of age, a resident of the State of Minnesota for at least six months, and your application has to be filed in the county in which you reside. You have to appear in front of a judge, answer a few questions, pay the court fees, and you have a new name.

I loved Name Change Court. The referee hearing Gail’s application was a friendly looking guy that reminded me of Fred Rogers from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. I imagined he was wearing a sweater under his robe.

There were several other petitioners in court that day. All of them were from Africa. We would hear all of their petitions before Gail took the stand to become Abigail. One attorney represented all of the guys from Africa. Gail didn’t have an attorney.

“Do you need an attorney?” I asked Gail, like I had a lawyer in my back pocket, or something.

“Nope. I’m good.”

Each petitioners’ case was presented separately. A petitioner was sworn in, and took the stand, then endured a grueling interrogation by Mr Rogers.

“Please state your name for the court.”

“My name is Inigo Montoya.” the first petitioner said.

“Okay.” Mr Rogers said, smiling, and checked off a box on the paperwork in front of him.

“According to the visa you entered the country with Mr Montoya, your name is Abdallah Akoya.”

“Yes. Abdallah Akoya was my cousin. He applied for the visa to come to this country.”

“Okay.” another box was checked off. “And how did you end up with your cousin’s visa?”

“He was eaten by a lion.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “Are you applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime?” Mr Rogers asked in his singsong voice. He was freaking brutal. No wonder these guys had hired an attorney.

“No. I am an honest man.” Inigo replied. Mr Rogers smiled, and checked off another box.

“Have you ever had sex with a goat?”

“No! I have never had sex with a goat!” Inigo Montoya indignantly replied. He had not been expecting that question. Mr Rogers kept on smiling, and checked off another box.

“Did you bring any witnesses who can verify the truth of your testimony?”

“I am representing Mr Montoya, and I have filed all of the appropriate documentation with the court.” the attorney replied.

“Okay!” Mr Rogers said, and that was it. Inigo Montoya had survived his grueling interrogation, and could become Abdallah Akoya.

I can’t remember how many guys from Africa endured their grueling interrogations under the benignly smiling gaze of Mr Rogers, or how many cousins had been eaten by lions, but all of them would take the stand before Gail did. And when she did, she was ready.

“My name is Gail Marjorie Markes. I want to change my name to Abigail Marjorie Markes-Covington. I’m not applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime. And I’ve never had sex with a goat.” She looked at me, and smiled a contented smile. I was so proud of her!

“Okay!” Mr Rogers smiled, and took a moment to check off all the boxes on Gail’s paperwork. “Did you bring any witnesses to testify on your behalf?”

“Yes. I brought my parents.” soon-to-be Abigail replied, and pointed to us.

“Would you please rise, and state your names?”

“I’m Lea Covington Rowen. I’m Gail’s mother, and I can vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “And you?”

“I’m Mark Edward Rowen. I’m Gail’s stepfather, and I can also vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box.

“And, your Honor,”

“Yes?” Mr Rogers smiled, and looked up from his paperwork.

“I’ve never had sex with a goat, either.”

“Okay!”

* * * *

And that was it. Gail became Abigail. And then she became Abi. And then she got married, and ended up with a new name, again.

I’ve thought about changing my name, but I’ve been putting it off for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t become a prophet yet, and I think I’d be more believable as a prophet if I had a name that sounded more, I don’t know, prophetic.

And two, the name I’ve been kicking around has already been taken by a prophet.

Elijah.

So? The guy’s been dead been dead for three thousand years!

Not so. Elijah is possibly the only man that ever lived that didn’t got dead. He was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire. He may return again someday, and how would he feel meeting another prophet who had taken his name?

Elijah is described as being a big, hairy guy. He could probably kick my ass with two hairy fingers, so, I’ve been waiting.

The day may come when my foolish dream is realized. I certainly hope so, even if the life of a prophet is one of scorn and suffering…

My lovely supermodel wife has gotten used to my delusion. And if she hasn’t, she’s at least become less vocal in her opposition. And I, I have become less convinced it will ever become a reality.

Why do you want to be a prophet, Mark?

That’s a fair question, but the answer…

That’s another story.

All My Darling Daughters

I know I said I was going to take some time off from writing. You know, get out of the house, go on a Mexican road trip. And then I screwed up my back. I can hardly make it to the kitchen to see if there’s anything in the refrigerator. Sitting in the car for a lengthy period of time would probably kill me to death, although my car has heated seats, and I love them almost as much as I love my daughters.

For those of you that have been reading my posts, you already know I was cursed by my mom when I was young.

Just wait until you grow up and have kids of your own! They’re going to be just like you!

I was a terrible human being in my youth, and my mother’s words scared me far more than any vague threats of spending an eternity in Hell ever did. For starters, you have to got dead to gain entry into Hell.

Like I was going to care about anything after I ceased living.

But children, children can make your life a living hell, and I knew all about that. After all, I done that to my parents.

So I purposed to not inflict that kind of suffering upon myself, and intentionally did not procreate. No birth control? Oh, look at the time! I forgot to feed my turtle today. Bye!

So, despite all of my precautions, I ended up with four darling daughters: Abigail and Gwendolyn, Nancy and Brea. I adopted the first two when I married my lovely supermodel wife. The last two adopted me when I worked with them at Aurora. And due to the fact that I’m not their biological father, they are four of the most darlingpreshadorbs women you could ever meet.

I also have two adopted work sons, Anthony and Luis. I may write about them someday. We’ll see.

When you marry a woman with children, you don’t marry her for her children. You marry her in spite of them.

I know when I fell in love with Lea. That was pretty much the moment I first saw her. It’s a guy thing. However, it would take a bit longer for me to fall in love with her girls. Abigail was twelve when I married her mom. Gwendolyn was fifteen. And they were Gail and Gwen back then. Gail legally changed her name to Abigail, and I will totally be writing about that someday. Gwen just started calling herself Gwendolyn.

I fell in love with Abigail first. She was a sweet kid, and could easily be described as a people pleaser. She just wanted everyone to be happy, and coming from a broken family only accentuated that need in her. Abigail actually reminds me of me. Sometimes I wonder how I couldn’t be her real dad. She’s more like me than she is either of her parents.

Gwendolyn was distant and aloof. She was kind of a moody little bitch when I first came into her life. She was probably pissed at her mom for divorcing her dad, and I was some guy that she’d have to talk during the holidays. Gwendolyn is so much like her mom it’s spooky. They even eerily resemble each other. Abigail looks like Lea too, but not as much as Gwendolyn does.

Gwen’s attitude would change when she turned eighteen. She would move in with us, and her emotional aloofness and distance toward us would thaw. That was also during the period of time that her mother became so deathly ill and was in and out of the hospital. Gwen and I would end up spending a lots of time together, and that’s when I fell in love with her. She is a big reason why I didn’t completely lose my mind during that period of time.

A lots of kids get into trouble with drugs or alcohol when they’re growing up. I have to give Lea and Steve a lots of credit because that wasn’t a major issue with her girls. They both would act out when they turned fourteen. I missed that stage with Gwen, but I would have my one and only father-daughter chat with Abigail when she hit that magic age.

She shaved the back of her head. I think she said she was bored or something. Her mom got really pissed or something, so I took Abi for a ride so we could be alone and chat.

“You know, when a kid gets into trouble these days, the parents look at each other and say, Where did we go wrong? But I’m from a different generation. When I did something stupid, my parents looked at me and said, What the hell is wrong with you! And if that wasn’t sufficient, they would spank my ass.

“You’re a good kid, and I’m only gonna tell you this once. Knock it off, or I will, I promise you, spank your ass until it glows like Rudolph’s nose. You got that?”

“Yep. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Will you teach me how to drive?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Can we start now?”

And everyone says raising girls is tough…

I have grown to love my girls so much, and they are my girls. They both became awesome adults, and I am so proud of both of them. They have enriched my life, and they both taught me a lots.

Thank you, Abigail. Thank you Gwendolyn. I miss you both, and hope you both have a wonderful and blessed holiday season. I can’t wait for you to come visit. You’ll love it down here. Bring Reese’s minis when you come…

* * * *

Brea was the first of my work daughters. She was a new grad, but you’d never know that watching her in action. It took me years to become a great psych nurse. Brea had me beat in about five minutes. I thought I might be in the presence of greatness. She was an amazing nurse, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with her.

I think I tried telling her how to do something once when we first started working together.

“Don’t get all up in my grille, son.” was her response. And that’s when I fell in love with Brea. That’s also when I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Brea, was gangsta. I knew it was time for me to start thinking about retirement. The torch had been passed to a new generation.

I would quote all kinds of famous dead people to Brea, like John Kennedy.

“Yeah, I don’t know who that is.”

Oh well, she’s still an awesome nurse.

And then I met Nancy. She would become the best partner I ever worked with, for many reasons. Nancy was a also a new grad, but I think she had worked in home healthcare before coming to Aurora. She didn’t have the same presence of greatness that Brea possessed, but she had potential.

Nancy was heavily into CrossFit training when I first met her. In fact, that was her main focus.

“I’m an elite athlete.” she said. “I’m Nancy Carolina Rodriguez!”

“I’m an elite psych nurse.” I replied.”And that’s what you’re going to be when I’m through with you.”

Nancy kind of looks like an Hispanic Smurfette, and that was her first nickname. And that’s how I became Papa Smurf. We gave nicknames to everyone! And that’s when I fell in love with Nancy. People actually begged us for a nickname because if you didn’t have our brand, you weren’t shit.

I had more fun working with Nancy than I had with anyone. We got stuff done, but we laughed all day doing it. The nurses on the nearby units were jealous because they weren’t having anywhere near as much fun as us.

Nancy was a good student. She learned fast. It was Nancy who patented the Canyon Hammer. If you got out of line on our unit, you got the hammer.

But I knew my job was done the day she didn’t break out the hammer. One of her patients started amping up. She wanted pain pills, and she wasn’t going to stop until she got them.

“I’ve already given you everything I can. Oh, how about an Ensure®?”

Problem solved. Time for me to go.

Brea and Nancy have both applied to NP school. They’ll probably rewrite the history books of nursing. Who knows? They really might change the world.

Ah, my darling work daughters, I miss both of you, too. And your Mom. But not enough to come back to work.

There are many ways to measure a man. If I had anything to do with helping my darlingpreshadorbs daughters become the people they’ve become, I am content.

Abigail and Gwendolyn. Brea and Nancy. You are my legacy.

That’s how blessed I am.