All We Want Is An Edge

I’m a doper.  Plain and simple.  I take performance enhancing drugs to edge out my daily opponent, bipolar depression.

I am resistant to conventional psychotropic medications which provide relief of mental illness symptoms from the inside out.  That is, they access your bloodstream after roughly six weeks, then their therapeutic effects begin to take-hold; and then (and only then), can your doctor begin the incremental step-by-step titration of your dosage eventually arriving at a suitable degree of efficacy.  So its fair to say that the management of your mood disorder is intrinsic or organic, as your body tolerated and is now escorting the daily ingestion of psychotropic drugs (prescription therapies) on the freshly paved path from mouth to stomach to bloodstream to brain.

I do not, unfortunately, enjoy the luxury of a pharmaceutical boardwalk.  My only relief is applied, like decoupages; like Zorro camouflaging his true identity with a mask, my mood is masqueraded by the uplifting properties of dextro-amphetamine salts which I ingest daily.  And while I experience my mood lifting like those Macy’s Parade balloon characters twenty minutes after ingestion, there’s a nasty bill to settle, a sheer cliff from which to fall, like the one from which Louise (Susan Sarandon) and Thelma (Geena Davis) launched their 1966 Thunderbird, and I drop like a lead balloon headlong into the Mariana Trench of despair and depression.  In order to avoid the cliff’s stifling fatigue I must remain dutifully conscious of my mood, and when it dips I must immediately swallow my next dose.

Each additional step of relief, each concomitant dose keeps me afloat like a life-jacket.  But it also hoists the height of my eventual crash higher still.  And predictably the rope snaps and my wakeful attention drops like a grand piano, crashing to the ground and splintering into a million irreconcilable pieces.

I’m in the company of fallen sports legends like Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, and Jose Canseco. We’re all guilty of willfully taking drugs designed to better our performance.

I am different in one respect: I’ve never beat my opponent to win the jersey or title or championship.  My opponent is bipolar depression and who has, unfortunately, all the bragging rights.

You Can Remove A Gall Bladder Faster

I think my mother coined this adage:
However long you think it’ll take, or, however much you think it’ll cost, double it!

Is it age? Competency? Vim and Vigor?

How come we never see Martha Stewart experience the notorious exploding bag of flour, or Ty Pennington experience driving a wood chisel through his hand?

Oh no, both Martha and Ty have everything they need in tidy little bowls at the ready.  (Those tidy bowls are tidied by twenty-something “producers” whose job it is to produce tidy bowls.  But doesn’t “producer” sound impressive?  (We used to call them “gophers” or “grunts.”))

Here’s a litany of tasks I disgracefully muddled through (thank God it was in the basement) in order to complete a “quick and easy do-it-your-self-er” project:

1.  Pry speaker box from cabinet;
2.  Continue to pry (with pry bar), indifferent to salvaging speaker box wood;
3.  Prying now escalates to demolition – just get the damn speaker free of the damn box!
4.  Wipe sweat with t-shirt, clean speaker of dirt and dust, ignore collateral damage at corner of room (friendly fire if you please);
5.  Scout in-house scrap stock for suitable material for speaker front;
6.  Select 3/4″ furniture-grade plywood
7.  Measure width between interior faces of ceiling joists; transfer measurement to plywood;
8.  Make cut on Makita 10 in. dual bevel compound miter saw (it’s like a day at the spa. . .);
9.  Measure circumference of speaker grill; place speaker gill on plywood and trace its circumference;
10.  Locate much loathed power jigsaw; locate much loved cordless drill and place 3/8″ fractional brad point bit into chuck;
11.  Drill pilot hole (to start cut with loathed power jigsaw);
12.  (WORD OF CAUTION: Remove dentures, lose fillings, eye glasses, and any item which might fall out/off during 7.5 magnitude earthquake);
13.  Place loathed jigsaw blade in starter hole, aim at the traced line, hit the safety and the trigger;
14.  Attempt to steer teeth-chattering, grip-jarring jigsaw along your traced line;
15.  STOP!  Back the jigsaw out, aim at your trace line, and hit the trigger;
16.  PAY ATTENTION!  Your cut looks as though you were blind-folded!
17.  At long last your cut ends where it started, but the hole is hardly round, resembling the road up to Pike’s Peak;
18.  Wipe sweat with t-shirt, locate dovetail saw, “trim” plywood to reshape cut to circular shape;
19.  Locate the four-in-one hand rasp and file; use curved rasp end to reshape details of cut; then use curved file end to smooth cut and edge surfaces;
20.  Locate sanding block and affix 80-grit sandpaper to begin smoothing and shaping; next affix 140-grit sandpaper and sand all surfaces;
21.  Locate mineral spirits and clean wiping rag; pour generous amount of mineral spirits onto rag; wipe all surfaces of wood with mineral spirits soaked rag; let wood dry;
22.  Locate speaker and check for fit in cut-out;
23.  Locate appropriately sized “L” brackets; choose between wood screws or bolt and t-nut to fasten wood to “L” brackets and “L” brackets to ceiling joists;
24.  Chose bolt and t-nut fasteners; root around in bolt drawer like a boar looking for grubs trying to locate correct length and diameter bolt to fit t-nut;
25.  Grab (what is now) the warm bottle of Sprecher’s Root Beer, pop off top, and almost drain bottle; emit improper and gauche oral yet non-vocal expression;
26.  Frustration beginning to simmer, forced to settle for two differing pairs of bolts for t-nuts; chose smaller wood screws as other fasteners;
27.  Place “L” brackets on “ceiling facing” side of wood; mark drill holes; remove “L” brackets;
28.  Locate screw and bolt gauge to determine correct drill bit size (different drill bit sizes: larger for bolt and t-nut; smaller for wood screw);
29.  Secure workpiece to table and drill holes at marked locations;
30.  Locate the four-in-one hand rasp and file; use the flat file end to smooth surface area around drill holes; turn workpiece over and check for tear-out; smooth areas;
31.  Locate t-nuts; place in larger holes on face side; locate hammer and pound t-nut into hole until flush with face surface;
32.  Place “L” brackets on workpiece and fasten to workpiece with bolts and wood screws;
33.  Check watch for time of. . .Jeez, that late all ready?
34.  Climb short ladder, place wood at eventual location, drill pilot holes for fasteners in ceiling joists;
35.  Locate ratchet screwdriver and wood screw fasteners; drive fasteners through “L” bracket holes and into ceiling joists;

36.  VOILA!  What a beaut, eh?  Ty Pennington’s got nothing to worry about.  Next time I think I’ll opt for the Cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal).

Fall’s Early Mornings Are Still Night

I closed the door behind me and with it the toasty comfort and wafting aroma of brewing coffee.  Turning to Jenni who was dancing at the gate, fall’s early morning rigor prompted my quick donning of gloves.  Carefully stepping down the frosted front stairs I blew into the air looking for the smoking gun, the evidence I’d need to herald to the neighborhood (like Paul Revere) the Winter is coming!  The Winter is coming!  Though I studied the air carefully as though I was looking for fingerprints, nary a puff appeared; no telltale sign besides my goose-flesh.  Fall‘s playing cat and mouse with us, I told Jenni as I turned the gates lever and she bolted out like a favored gelding at a horse race.

We’d gotten an early start today, earlier than normal.  Jenni was up and out of bed at half past five and though I pleaded for patience, her answer was determined and direct: any limb (or part of limb) which had poked out during the night like Punxsutawney Phil or General Beauregard Lee was suddenly startled by a dogged lapping of tongue as though the targeted extremity was a popsicle on the hottest dog-days of summer.  Heavy-lidded doziness and a ten thousand duck down comforter can be very seductive, but what’s really arousing is the cold and wet dogma of the persuasive lap-ping dog which highlighted my dog-eat-dog world.

Jenni’s quite content cavorting in Fall’s early morning chills.  I’ve donned thin gloves but toughed it out and left the toque at home.  There’s a certain sadness during fall; like knowing the fireworks-like trees will soon be bones unable to produce shade; the morning chill creeps longer into the morning like the warned child near the cookie jar; leaves once an inferno, crackling like dry wood now slimy and slippery and stick together like wet newspaper.  Fall is falling; it’s falling leaves and falling temperatures and falling daylight. 

But to Jenni, there’s never been a better, brighter or brisk beginning.


After 50 Years, I Can Speak My Father’s Language

I became Harold’s (my father’s name) youngest son when he was forty-nine years old.  Forty-nine today isn’t what it was in 1958, especially when you lived life full bore.  By the time I became conscious of his presence (three years old) he’d already begun his initial descent.  He had the looks of Walter Cronkite, the physique of Jackie Gleason, the temper of John McEnroe, the contempt for women of August Strindberg (Swedish Playwright and infamous misogynist 1849-1912), the alcoholism of Johnny Cash, and a creative and innovative mind in the areas of electrical and mechanical engineering.

There were just two of us (me and my older (2 years) brother.  That is, until 1972 (I was 14 years old), when the dirty laundry was aired: Our father had a previous marriage which produced two daughters and a son.  As I recall I was excited by the prospect (kind of like the “Brady Bunch“) and my brother was apprehensive and quite angry.  The confession of a first marriage only occurred because the eldest daughter had the strong desire to discover what happened to her “real daddy.”  The first wife’s precept that no one was to try to find their father until she had passed was strictly enforced and subsequently honored by all.  She passed in the early 70’s after which the eldest daughter’s search began.  As to why our mother or father kept this secret and never disclosed anything about it is anyone’s guess.

The marriage bond between my father and mother was broadsided by the wrecking ball in 1963 when the County Sheriff appeared at our front door to serve our dad his notice to vacate immediately which, we learned later, was a bitterly contested condition of their divorce. From that day on and until the day he died he expressed a cruel, ruthless and chronic acrimony and rancor toward our mother which he publicly and conspicuously displayed, especially when we visited on Sunday afternoons.  I don’t know if his brutish and vengeful behavior during our visits was aimed at my brother and I, or if he thought we’d run back to headquarters and repeat verbatim his vitriolic euphemisms such as “that god-damned pollock” (those were the only words he ever used to reference her).  I think his ruthless contention began after his first wife deserted him in the middle of the night with the children and his business partner and their business’s assets liquidated to cash.  The few things he treasured had fled in the night leaving him alone and penniless.

But he was not the victim; he was the perpetrator.

As I was to learn later in life, my father lived fast!  It took me a number of years before I could admit that my dad had already been someone else’s dad before he was mine.  What’s more, he was dad to three kids and husband to some lady some place and neighbors and club members and tavern buddies and business partners and customers all of whom I would never meet, but of whom meant very much or very little to him, and this whole other life never ever in a million years, not even for a split second ever imagined that somewhere some day in the universe there’d be Harold’s youngest child telling you their life story.  Well, until the age of fourteen I thought Harold being my dad was a one-act play; I was shocked to discover that there had been an earlier play, a one-man production entitled The First Dad is the Real Dad penned by his first family, which unbeknownst to me, devolved my one-act into a superfluous epilogue found in ancient Greek dramas.

Yet there were earlier chapters, when he was practically barbaric; young and handsome and strong and libertine.  Chapters in which he had pockets stuffed full of youthful immortality and adventurous hunger. Chapters which bore great resemblance to the stories of Hemingway or Faulkner or Steinbeck.  Chapters of male bonding and passage: acquiring the finesse of fly fishing; developing the patience of a deer hunter; learning how to set up camp.  Chapters about acquiring mechanical and electrical skills when combined with his creativity conjured up devices which awed his employers.  It’s these chapters that are out-of-print, those few siblings able to remember have long passed, names of friends or places or dates abandoned.  It would seem that my understanding of who and what my father really was would be conjecture, similar to explanations of figures in portraits painted by famous artists.

Except, there was one trail which we’d never bothered to follow: a couple of phenomenally heavy boxes which contained an enormous array of hand tools, parts, components, knobs, fuses, and rust.  These boxes had been buried in my brother’s basement for years, neither he nor I had any practical use for them.  In fact, they reminded both of us of particularly painful memories when both of us declined our dad’s invitation to study drafting in high school (and therefore follow his life’s path) and turned our attentions to the performing arts.  That was when I could feel my father’s pride drain from him as though he’d just been gutted.  But fifty years later, after I endured a break down and was determined to entertain my curiosities and creativity I spotted the art of wood working.  And I read a passage: “A Woodworker works wood with hand tools, he doesn’t machine wood with power tools.”  And so began my acquisition of various tools, all with specific purposes, and some which looked distantly familiar, as though I’d stumbled across them long ago but didn’t know what, if any, use they’d have.  What I didn’t understand then, I clearly understand now: Context was missing; meaning was missing; purpose and use and technique and discipline and understanding were all missing the first time, as an adolescent, I had found them.  But today, as I work wood with my hand tools I finally understand my father’s native language.  A language of tools and imagination and creativity.  A language of applied science.  A language which died the same day he did.

But it’s been rediscovered and is as important to me as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I finally understand the language he’d been speaking, how he saw his world, what he’d use to solve problems, and why he was so devastated when my brother and I impolitely snubbed his advice about drafting class and joined glee club instead.  And while I’m overjoyed to finally uncover a common thread uniting me to my dad, it’s also bittersweet: It’s a reminder that he’s gone and a wish that I’d give anything if he and I could, for just one day, sit together in my work space and “talk shop.”

The attached pictures show my dad’s tool at the top or the left and my tool underneath or to the right of his.

Mental Illness: Metaphorically Speaking

It’s like a rain delay during the sixth inning of the seventh game of the World Series

It’s like everyone else forgot your birthday;

It’s like dining alone in, what was, your favorite restaurant;

It’s like all your clothes turned into varying shades of gray;

It’s like, who cares?

It’s like, I Want My Life Back!

It’s like a clogged drain.

It’s like I never heard the punchline.

It’s like the weariness of a fourteen mile boot camp hike.

It’s like losing your sense of smell.

It’s like living senselessly.

It’s like being stood up in a crowded restaurant without your wallet/purse.

It’s like sunny days, wagging tails, and giggles from children are intolerable annoyances.

It’s like being unhappy for so long you’ve forgotten what happiness was.

It’s like your friends don’t call as often.

It’s like vanilla, just vanilla, only vanilla, vanilla.

It’s like time’s hands got tired, quit, and moved to Florida.

It’s like there used to be normal, but now there’s this new normal which isn’t better or improved; the new normal is the generic of normal.

It’s like that dull ache of heartbreak.

It’s like the Dead Sea (lowest), Antarctica (coldest), and Macquarie, AU (cloudiest).

It’s like this every day.