Monday, September 2, 2013

The Open Door by Keith Martin

Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Keith Martin for permission to share this with my friends on this blog. And thanks to the Roanoke Time for printing it on Aug. 31, 2013. All of you who have children leaving for school know the feelings he shares.

The buttery shafts of sunlight shining through the open bedroom door startled me this morning. It’s been a while, at least eight years — on any regular basis, that is.
This morning was different. The door should be shut. It’s never open this early in the morning, sometimes not until noon.
When I built this house, my wife was pregnant with our first girl. One of the things that sold her on this plan was the elliptical transom windows in the front. It had been my intention to strike the transoms from the plan as a cost savings, but quickly learned that you cannot argue with a nesting woman, particularly if you are married to her. That was 18 years ago.
For the first few years, this was a guest room, the place where Ma Maw stayed when she came to visit, or for out-of-town friends when they came for the weekend.
It stayed a guest room for a few years after little sister was born. They slept in the same bed in the other room, preferring the comfort of each other’s company over the privacy of their own room. Those were the story-telling days. After teeth brushing and prayers, a bedtime story, a kiss on the forehead, nightlight left on and door cracked. All was well in the house.
Once the turf wars began, it was time for each little girl to have her own room. Big sister took over the guest room. It became her domain. Little sister painted her room, just to prove that she didn’t care about being left behind.
For a couple of more years, when I stepped into the hall in the morning I would see that first shaft of sunlight from that elliptical transom spilling into the hallway. Peeking in, I would quietly close the door, then do the same for her sister. A short while later, they both began to shut their doors at night.
Throughout the teenage years, the shut door meant they were home. I could open the door and see them, talk to them, fuss over clutter or just give them a hug.
The open door surprised me this morning; I’m not sure why. We took her to the university two days ago.
There is comfort in a shut door. You know she is in there, safe and secure. The shafts of sunlight were taunting me to call her to see that she was alright. To be sure that we had done the right thing by leaving her in that foreign place called college.
How could we be so stupid? Is she OK? What the hell have I done?
I shook my head to clear it and walked by the open door without looking in. I started to close it, to cut off the offending sunlight, but that didn’t seem right either, so I turned and went to the kitchen.
I contemplated this door situation all day today. Twice, I have gone in there just to reassure myself that she is OK, to see her familiar things. “It’s just college, dammit, she’ll be home in a few weeks.” The words seem hollow. I know things have changed.
She will be coming home, often at first, then less and less. In a couple of years, her sister will follow suit. It is God’s plan.
College, careers, marriage, kids. The cycle will continue. There will be good times and bad, highs and lows. Through it all, there will be love of family, because that is who and what we are.
The sunlight will continue to come through the elliptical transoms each morning, lighting the hallway with memories. I’ll leave the door open so those memories can flood the rest of the house. I’ll relish the times when the door is shut. That means she’s home.
I love you, girls. Be safe.
— Dad

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Comcast Outrage

You read that right. Comcast outrage. And outage too. It's been 13 days since we lost our cable service. And I am NOT happy about it.

We were away for a few days earlier in the month. When we got home, nothing. Snow, static. No signal. Luckily we have an external antenna (remember those?) so we could hook up one set for local stations.

I called Comcast on Tuesday, August 13. A recorded voice said there was an outage in our area (well, like, du-uh) and that service would be restored at 11:22 am on Thursday, August 15. No fooling. A precise time. 11:22 came and went. I called again and every day since.

On Friday, Aug. 16, a customer service rep called me. He said there was an outage in my area. Again, like, du-uh. When I asked what the problem was, he said there was a break in the fiber-optic cable. When will it be fixed? We don't know. Why not? This is his answer: "Aren't most people in your area summer people?"

That's what's caused my outrage. Yes, many are summer people, but Comcast doesn't offer a "summer" rate. It offers a full-priced subscription for an entire year. Comcast hasn't had any difficulty cashing my checks. This "customer service" rep implied that we didn't count, but he did say we'd get a credit for lost service. I don't want a credit. I want the service, crappy as it is, that I'm paying for.  He told me to keep checking the website to keep on top of the problem. Guess what: there's an outage in my area. What am I, stupid or something?

Right now, I'm looking for any alternative, including staying with my antenna and buying more for my other sets. With service like this, I wonder how Comcast stays in business.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nature on the Rampage

In recent weeks, nature has been on the rampage. Floods. Fires. Tornadoes. Tropical storms. All over the world. I don't know if this is global warming or not. Probably is, but too many don't or won't believe that humans have a role in putting too much pollution into ecosystems. We have a role in seeking a solution, one person at a time.

We are all at fault. We drive our cars when we could take public transportation or walk. We produce too much trash per capita and lament when it has to be trucked or barged out of state when local landfills are overflowing. We create electricity using fossil fuels instead of renewable fuel sources.

The fire season in the U.S. started early this year. Tens of thousands of acres burned, too many houses destroyed, firefighters and civilians dead. It happens every year. When I lived in Southern California, fires were part of life. My canyon didn't burn while I was there, but friends in Malibu Canyon lost property twice. I have dreadful memories of racing down toward the Pacific Ocean on horseback, bareback, leading six terrified horses behind me, just as the fire crested the ridge. We got out safely and met up with other riders and evacuated horses on the sands. We should expect fires out there because nature designed the hills of Southern California to burn. Overpopulation in danger areas, drought, high temperatures, Santa Ana winds--not easy to find a solution, but it will take all of us.

Floods have devastated parts of the central U.S. when the Mississippi flooded. The Army Corps of Engineers manages the river through a series of levies and dikes. Control measures worked to minimize flooding this year. Not so in Canada and India. Calgary is under brown flood waters. Property is destroyed, but few people drowned. Not so in India where a storm slammed against the Himalayas and dumped and dumped and dumped water on hillsides. Flooding today has taken over 1000 lives. We all grieve for those lost and their families who remain. We may not be able to do much about floods. Maybe we can control them better, but who thinks to build levies where you've never had disastrous flooding before, as seems the case in Calgary.

Air pollution, ah, there's something we can do something about. We can drive less. Yes, even you can cluster your trips. You can buy more gas-efficient cars. If you live in a city, try walking or using public transportation. We can encourage our government to invest in alternative energy. Every household that gets its electricity from alternative sources is one more not burning fossil fuels. We can turn off lights. I mean, the coffee pot doesn't give a hoot about what's on television. It isn't watching. Turn off the TV. Unplug your power strips when you go on vacation. You can't imagine how much electricity all your power chargers drain every day.

Recycle. Try to put at least 40% of your trash in recycle bins. If your community doesn't recycle, lobby for it to change its practice. Since we don't systematically process methane from land fills, we mess up the environment twofold. We could reuse methane for fuel across the country. We could recycle. We can compost garbage.

We are to blame. So we need to suck it up and fix the problem, one person at a time. I challenge you to pick one way to help nature and get started.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Remembering Those Who Serve

My war was Vietnam. It became a formative backdrop when I was growing up. It launched me into a lifetime of service and protests.

Even though Memorial Day 2013 is behind us, I still remember those who went to war, fell in action or came home wounded in visible and invisible ways. My high school graduating class was hit hard. 1964. The draft cranked up and took boys almost right out of classrooms. About 40% were drafted. I don't know how many didn't return. I don't want to know, I guess, because I've never looked at the honor rolls on

My college graduating class was hit hard too. 1968. We still had the draft, although we also had protests rising everywhere. More were educated about options for not going to 'Nam. Some went to Canada. Some kept their student deferments. Some pretended to be gay. And others went because they didn't have options. Again, some returned; others didn't.

I protested. Marched. Stood silently in support of our wounded and dead servicemen. And I wept for my own loss. My best friend, a man I planned to marry, never made it back. He was ROTC in college. Med school on scholarships. Probably didn't have to go, but accepted his call to duty. His mother took his baby in. No, not mine. I went to grad school, waiting and praying for his return.

I was in grad school in Japan when I learned he was missing in action. For months, we had no further word. His mother sickened and could no longer care for his little girl. I wasn't his wife, so I couldn't take the child. We lost her to an adoption. I'm sure she grew up in a happy home. I just wish it had been ours. Nineteen months later, we were told he was dead. His mother collapsed and never recovered. She died within weeks of learning of her son's fate.

I pulled every string I had to get the truth of his death. After all, he was an orthopedic surgeon who didn't go out to the field. Until this one time. He went to a triage center to help stabilize the wounded before they were airlifted out. He caught the last chopper. It was went down with no survivors. The military knew what happened within hours of the incident.

Hours. We learned months later. I finally badgered an officer who told me the truth. His chopper was in Cambodia when we weren't officially in Cambodia. The firefight was there. The wounded were there. My friend died there.

When Memorial Day and Veteran's Day roll around, I think of my friend, his patients, his family, his child. I think of those who served and who still serve.

Thank you one and all for serving. Thank you one and all for preserving our way of life. Thank you all for being my heroes.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Yes, stuff. Have you ever realized how much we define ourselves by our stuff? We all have too much of it. And it's like getting rid of a dear friend to cull it from our lives. For some, stuff is a physical manifestation of the stuff in our heads. Cluttered minds and cluttered living spaces make it difficult to live a calm life.

I got to looking at the stuff I've collected over the years. Even though I purged huge truck loads when Terry and I moved to the lake, we still have too much. And this is after implementing a one-in-two-out rule.

Let's take a look the story my closets tell. If I buy a new shirt, two leave the closet. That's all well and good to keep hanger proliferation under control. My house has seven closets for two people. Six are in guest bedrooms, but each of those closets has outside hooks for guest clothes. That mean, each "guest" closet is full of stuff we don't wear.

How do I know we don't wear it? Easy. At the beginning of each year, I turn all hangers around so the hooks point outwards. If we don't worn an item in the next twelve months, I have a visual aid. But that hasn't always led to filling trash bags for the dump or boxes for Goodwill.

I culled a guest closet a couple of weeks ago. What was in it, you ask? Clothes, every expensive clothes, that no longer fit either of us. Yes, Terry and I have put on a few pounds since we worked in the corporate world. Our life style no longer requires us to wear suits and ties, dresses and blazers, all the time. Since some of these (honestly, a lot of these) items no longer fit, I took the largess to Goodwill. Terry's suits and dress slacks were generally two sizes too small. Mine were worse. I hate to admit it, but I had pants and skirts that were three sizes smaller than I am today.

I had to face a fact: I will never be small enough to wear my skin-tight, size eight black leather pants again. With a huge gulp and a tiny whimper, they went in the box. As did silk trousers. As did wool slacks that I can't wear at the lake, because they are too heavy. Out went various jackets I no longer need. Maybe someone else can use them.

I felt healthier for accepting that I'm no longer a size eight. I also felt emotionally lighter for getting rid of almost an entire closet of business clothes.

I looked around at the rest of the house. I need to de-stuff more of it, but that will come later. And will result in a different post. For now, I am at peace with a leaner closet. More closets remain, but they'll be easier now that the first one has survived a purge.

Does your stuff tell a story about your family's history? Did you consciously collect your stuff? Or did it seem to appear in bits and pieces over the years?

So tell me. What do you need to get rid of in your life?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Me and Hillary

January turned out to be a schizophrenic month. The first and second halves of the month didn't match. Let me explain.

The first half of the month saw Terry and me traveling to Florida for a vacation. We rented a little bungalow at Ft. Myers Beach. Sun and sand were right across the street. Terry gave me the trip for my birthday. We got a bit scorched in the winter sun, took long walks at the water's edge, breathed in salt air and sampled a lot of sea food. My birthday dinner was at Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grill. If you don't read Randy Wayne White, you don't know who Doc Ford is. White licensed his main character to two restaurants, one in Ft. Myers Beach, one on Sanibel Island. I got some good writing in as well. Felt like I was channeling Hemingway while working on Max 2.

After a week, we drove across Florida to Palm Coast and hooked up with our daughter to watch the playoffs in her hot tub. The hot tub was a tepid tub, so we decided being couch potatoes was good enough. Daily long walks ended with sports on TV, good food and great conversation.

We returned home, tan, rested and ready to put the finishing touches on my book launch. A box of advanced reader copies waited for me. The bear and Puss in Boots figure in Mad Max Unintended Consequences. I barely had time to do a happy puppy dance around the living room when things changed.

A day after returning home, I started feeling unwell. I mean, really unwell. I had chest pains. I was so short of breath I couldn't climb the stairs. Terry took one look at my face and said we needed to get to the emergency room. Turned out he was right.

I underwent a battery of tests. Heart attack? No. Ruled out with a blood test. Listening to my lungs for pneumonia? Negative. CT scan of my chest. Positive for pulmonary embolisms. Oh shit! Not what I wanted to hear. No one wants to hear she has PEs. Most people find out they have them too late. We found out in time. Dopler tests on my legs to see where the clots originated. Not in the legs.

I spent a night in ICU getting no sleep, then four more days in a regular hospital bed getting anticoagulant shots to keep more clots from forming and Coumadin to thin my blood. All the time I was in, an earworm roamed around my brain. With apologies to Paul Simon, Me and Julio turned into me and Hillary. Why? Because my guess is that Hillary had the same shots and the same oral meds I had.

I looked at my abdomen and torso when I got home. The bruising from the shots made my abdomen look like I went ten rounds with a boxer. Multi-colored bruises would make any tattoo artist green with envy. They can't get these same colors in their inks. My torso looked like I'd tangled with an octopus. Sucker marks from the EEG and heart monitors left round, red bruises.

So, now you ask how I feel. I feel good physically. We still don't know what caused the PEs. We have a couple of clues, but we don't know for sure. Yet. How did I feel when I was first diagnosed? Scared. Shitless.