Women’s March 2018

On the same day when, two years earlier I posted my awakening blog about becoming a feminist, I took part in my second Women’s March in two years. Last year I took the boys to the one in Reno while Ash went to the HUGE one in Washington. This year, Ash marshalled in Reno while I took the boys along with Ash’s mom. It was a great time.

It started with a walk from the car to the Federal Building, just like last year. I mean, exactly like last year. Here’s photographic proof:

2017
2018

Our boys made their own signs (and came up with the slogan for Granny’s sign as well):

D’s says “Donald Trump Is Not right” – and has a picture of Trump saying “I want a wall” and someone else saying “No you can’t”

We got to the courthouse in plenty of time to see some great signs, and even bump into a few friends:

Jess & Iris

This was an understatement. And when I say we bumped into friends, I don’t mean adults. My kids bumped into not one, not two, but SIX of their friends throughout the march. I think that says something about the families that my family has become close with.

Anyway, we got to hear the initial speakers just fine despite being far enough away to not see them. Along the way, I got to see some pretty great signs.

I think I saw in someone else’s picture that this sign was made and held by my friend Amanda, whose head you can see in the bottom of the frame!

One of the highlights of my day was spotting a young lady with a sign and asking to take a picture with her because of the content of our signs. She was happy to. ūüôā

Yin / Yang

Then the march began. I tried to take a few photos of the crowd on either side of me (as I was basically in the middle of it all). Here is the view to the south, the view to the west, and the view to the north:

I felt there were fewer people than last year, mainly bacause last year we were packed so tightly nobody could move at all. Then reports came out that last year we were around 10k people, but this year estimates ranged from 10,000 to 15,000. I think the reason why was actually how well it was organized this year. People had a better understanding of where to start and where to go, and that also allowed them to spread out a bit more. The walkway was larger, giving more room to spread out.

At last we arrived at the main plaza, just past the fantastic whale (which really does look rather nice when the sun catches it just so). I took a picture, but my blog really hates vertical pictures. Anyway, while the main speakers spoke, Granny and L took a trip up the parking deck, so I grabbed this picture of them.

Those signs could probably be seen from space.

Later I took the littler boys up to the deck to grab my own pictures. Unfortunately by the time I did it, a fair number of people had already left, so the turnout looks much smaller than it was.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

There was scarcely any counter-protesters to be seen. I saw one sign that said “Women for Trump” with, ostensibly, some women there holding it. I also saw two “All Lives Matter” signs, one of which I sadly believe was brought by a march-supporter (pink hat) who just didn’t get it. I saw no trouble or animosity throughout the entire day.

Rather what I witnessed was strength, empowerment, camaradere, and a group of mostly women who have grown weary of marching for basic human rights (I saw several signs to the tune of “I’ve been holding this sign since the 1960s”). I met a handful of people by name just because we liked each other’s signs, or they were glad I brought kids with me, or hell just because they were standing next to me.

There is a LOT to lose in 2018 and 2020, and this was a reminder that there’s a VAST contingent of people who are going to do everything in their power to not give another inch. It was very wonderful to see.

I sorta hope there isn’t a march in 2018, but if there is, we’ll be there.

 

OOPS: Edited because I somehow forgot to add my favorite sign, with all due respect to every other sign out there.

The World Series (in picture form)

WORLD SERIES 2016

Game 1: Cleveland, OH

(Time to cue the intro from… well, I’ll just do it…)

If any of you bothered to watch that, you’d be as amused as me that the newspaper headlines are overdubbed in German.

I’m not going to go into great details, I already did that in THIS POST HERE. I will, however, share the pictures that accompanied my once-in-a-lifetime trip. (Full disclosure: I hope this isn’t once in a lifetime, but it’s certainly not gonna happen again next year, even if they make the series again. I’m broke as our electoral system.)

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On our way to Dennys before the game. Jay got a salad. I ordered the seasonal Thanksgiving dinner. This is the first proof that, in any picture we are both in, one of us is not capable of looking good.
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The one and only Jaymar posing before the field. The sign may say Progressive, but it’ll always be The Jake to me.
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Entering the stadium from center field. I agree with Jay, that does seem weird.
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A view from our seats. That is: a fish-eye view from our seats before I realized that my camera inexplicably has a fish-eye setting.
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A better view from our seats. And further proof that, like Highlander, there can be only one (that looks good in a picture of us both).
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We were close enough to see John Adams banging away on his drum. Well, to be more precise, my camera has a good enough zoom lens that… you get the point.
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The unfurling of the obligatory huge flag. “Gets me every time,” says Jaymar.
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Pre-game fireworks. SPOILER ALERT: more of that to come.
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The retiring of 455, the number of consecutive sellout games. In 3926, Sicnarf Loopstok the 95th will be very upset that he can’t pick his high school number of 455.
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First pitch. Like this was ACTUALLY the first pitch of the World Series.
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Frankie Lindor doing what he does best. Smiling. And stealing 2nd base. But mostly smiling. Why? Probably because he knew he was going to win a Gold Glove in his first full season in the majors! Booyah!
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I can’t believe I actually got this on film. It was the massive 30′ dinker that Ramirez hit that opened the scoring of the World series. Given that we were probably at least 250′ away, that makes this shot even luckier.
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I like Nap and love what he did for this team. The Party at Napoli shirts are awesome. That being said, this is what he did an awful lot of in his last two months at the plate. Steeeee-rike.
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Okay, I know this isn’t the at-bat where I famously called Brandon Guyer getting a HBP RBI on an 0-2 count. But screw that, on the very next pitch I PREDICTED HE WOULD GET HIT BY A PITCH TO SCORE A RUN!
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Remember what I said about our inability to both look good in the same picture?
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Napoli proving me wrong with some solid contact. Still an out, but solid contact. I do genuinely hope we can resign him next year. Just not at $17m.
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Mid-game fireworks, these coming after Roberto Perez’ first of TWO homers of the night. It was a career game.
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Proof that Perez can trot.
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The score after Perez’ dinger.
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Slider hugging Santa. Because baseball, that’s why. The Indians scored 3 more times this game, and I somehow attribute it to this action.
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Cody Allen throwing a white cylinder at the Cubs. He fared well this day. As did the Indians.
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Post-game fireworks: the trifecta.
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Post-game glee. Jay’s thumbs up was for the game, his grimace was for my photo-while-walking skills.
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Our glee evaporated when we waited on line for about an hour to go up the only escalator.

All in all, this was a day to remember. Major thanks again to Jaymar and to Ashley who made this happen! We didn’t win it all (came within one run) but it was an epic game and one of the all-time great World Series.

The Indians did steal one thing from the Cubs. We’re now the team who gets to say “There’s always next year.”

Post WS wrap-up

This blog will have no pictures because I have to get home, defrag, and upload some pictures, so that blog will hopefully roll out in the next few days. But until then, some notes on the WORLD SERIES:

  • Our seats were pretty amazing. Front row of the upper deck, halfway between 3rd base and the foul pole. Perfect view of the entire stadium and we got a firsthand look at Perez’ TWO home runs. Plus, with my extra-zoomy camera, I was able to snap pictures of individual players batting. I couldn’t have asked for better seats.
  • The weather – I was truly worried about 50 degrees with wind, but up until about the 8th inning it was downright pleasant. Somehow, even tho the temperature only dropped 2 degrees, it did get chilly at the end. But considering as I was walking into the airport today I saw SNOWFLAKES, I can’t really complain one iota about the weather. It was a perfect night for baseball.
  • Jaymar and I had a sort of contest to predict what the most random jersey we’d see would be. I thought maybe a Paul Byrd or Russell Branyan. I forget Jay’s prediction (it wasn’t Hershiser but it was someone like that). We saw someone rockin’ a Jensen Lewis jersey. That took the cake. Although I realize now we also saw a Joe Smith jersey, which is oddly apropros because he was part of the Bullpen Mafia in the Indians and is currently a member of the Cubs. Oh, and you should definitely click that link and watch that video from the so-bad-its-good vault.
  • The game itself was fantastic and was about as good a start as you could hope for. A dominant start by Kluber (6+ scoreless ball, breaking a record for most strikeouts in the first three innings – 8), scoreless relief from Miller, shutdown by Allen, and 10 hits (8 of which were by Lindor, Ramirez, and the newly crowned stud Perez). It was the sort of declarative statement I think we needed.
  • Speaking of which, the Indians were the definitive underdog in the Red Sox series, which we swept. We were the clear underdogs in Toronto before advancing after winning 4 and only losing one. Now we’re probably the biggest underdogs yet we shut down the ¬†best offense in the majors and chipped away at their great staff. You really don’t hear about overdogs enough, but I like flying under the radar. I think it’s making teams too complacent. We’re sneaky good.
  • I put in more steps than I had in the previous week combined, and most of that was looking for a single place to get booze that wasn’t beer. I eventually found a place that served watered down screwdrivers (she was going to make it with GIN! ughhh) but it was just too much work to keep going back. Plus, it was fun being sober for the game – lots of screaming to be had.
  • I made a prediction that possibly rivals the Babe famously calling his home run. With the bases loaded and two outs, hit-by-pitch magnet Brandon Guyer steps up and gets himself into an 0-2. I turn to Jay and said “Okay, Guyer’s gonna get hit by a pitch here to score a run.” That’s an absurd prediction to make, given that a pitcher won’t throw anywhere near him on an 0-2 count. But Lester did on the next pitch, hitting him on the back of the leg. I can’t say anyone else made that prediction. Also, this exists. ūüėÄ

  • This really was a bucket list item. Will I go back to the Series if they make it next year, or in ten years, or fifty? I don’t know, probably not. It was something I wanted to make sure I could do once. If I do save up some money, I’d love to go back some day with the whole family to watch a WS game, but I made sure to grab the opportunity this year while it presented itself.
  • I don’t think I can adequately thank Jay & Ashley enough for making this trip happen. It’ll be something I remember forever, and I think I’m going to owe a few dozen footrubs in the coming weeks. And, I guess… more dinners at Dennys for Jaymar.
  • 3 MORE WINS TO GO!
  • Also, Jay and I are going to hopefully churn out a Dirty Dozen list out of this – Top 12 Things That Will Cause the Cubs to Lose Again This Year

Go Tribe! And go me! To Cleveland! To See the Tribe! Exclamation Points!!!

Since becoming an ardent fan of the Indians in the 80s (before I’d ever seen Major League, but probably after the movie came out), I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan over the years. I was raised a Mets fan and still like them and root for them (and even managed to watch all the World Series games last year), but I don’t have the total passion for the Metropolitans that I do for the Indians.

Which is something of a shame because the Indians name and logo are, well, an embarrassment that needs to be changed.

But I can’t help it, I’m an Indians fan. I started getting really into them in the mid 90s, and I was the only one in my freshman dorm rooting for them over the Yankers in ’97. My fandom exploded in the decade that followed. In fact, ever since 2007 when we were within one decently pitched game of the series, I’ve told myself that if they ever make the Series, I’m going to go out there to see a game. I’ve never seen a game at Progressive Field/The Jake (I did stop by once and buy a hat,¬†but I was 2 hrs away at game time and it was supposed to rain that evening, so I didn’t go) and I’ve only seen them play once (in San Fran losing to the Giants in interleague play).

What’s more, now that my oldest son is an Indians fan, I’ve made the promise to myself that I’d take him when this happened.

So of course this year – 2016 – they’re in the Series. 2016,¬†the year¬†I lost my job and taken a new one at a mere slice of my old¬†salary; 2016, when we have had to pay $8k in new flooring that was unexpected, and one that has just seen financial woes in general. So I was going to have to say “I guess next time.”

Until two people stepped in. Jaymar (he of the Dirty Dozen fame) is a true baseball fan, and although he supports the Red Sox first, he will use almost anything as an excuse to catch a game. He sends me this text saying if I’d go to Cleveland if he could pull some strings on tickets. Like WORLD SERIES tickets. The short answer is probably no, no I couldn’t afford even the airfare. And that’s when the second person came in.

Ashley (she of having really cool science clothes fame, among other things) heard the offer and said “GO!” I mean, there’s more to the conversation, about how to pay for things, about how the Indians really need a new name, about gratitude, about priorities… but she didn’t second guess. She not only gave me her blessing, she made it possible.

Then I had to wait for my new job, who initially said no, but I managed to talk them into it as long as I basically miss no work – which means red-eye flights, working in the hotel, barely any sleep. The delay actually jacked up my flights $300, which is NOT cool, but this opportunity could very well not present itself again for many many years.

I regret that I can’t take my oldest son along – the baseball ticket alone for a 3rd person is apparently significantly more expensive¬†than just a pair, and then tack on another $800 in airfare, it just isn’t possible this year. Hopefully a warm Chief Wahoo-less hoodie for him and a stuffed animal for his brother will make up for it. I guess I have to start saving in case the Indians have sustained success and find themselves back here in the coming years.

Either way, I doubt I’ll be able to live-tweet or live-blog any of this as I’ll be working most of the short trip, and it’ll be windy and in the 40s for the game so I doubt I’ll be able to feel my fingers, but I’ll try to post pictures and wrap up afterwards.

So go Jay! Go Ashley! Go Cleveland baseball team (naughty language alert on that link)!

Note, these pictures are 2.5 years old.
Note, these pictures are 2.5 years old.
Try to ignore the racist imagery, try to focus on the message.
Try to ignore the racist imagery, try to focus on the cuteness.

Day 123: Back on my Feet

I finally looked over the instructions I was supposed to be following after my procedure – good thing I had Ash before that helping me along. I am supposed to be on a soft-foods diet again for 7-10 days, as it could take about 5 days or more for the steroid injection to actually begin to work its magic. And I’m able to mix my percocet and ibuprofin if need be.

I probably should have looked these instructions over beforehand.

Anyway, as my title suggests I’m a little more alive today. Yesterday, we signed some house documents and just doing that (and walking around the building a few times because I was woefully under my step count) did tire me out a bit. Today, I was able to get up, drive D into school (L stayed home today because… weird school reasons), and even attempted to do a little packing, as we’re supposed to be out of our house in 12 days. So yeah, gonna be an interesting time.

This morning I awoke to some jaw pain, but not as much as the two previous days (yesterday got bad at times). I have been taking Aleve pretty regularly just to keep inflammation down, haven’t needed the painkillers yet. I will say just an hour or so of light packing has made me need to take a little rest, so I’m not exactly up-and-at-em yet. I imagine it would not have been fun had I had to sit in a chair and concentrate for 8 hours (it took me about 30 minutes to even get my head wrapped around writing this blog).

Eating has been weird. I did manage to eat some cheese-stuffed rigatoni things (I opted not to try the sausages) and it was about my upper max, but it’s nice that I’m not stuck just eating yogurts and soups at least. But I am always sort of stuck between being hungry and having and upset stomach. It might be taking Aleve on a not-full stomach, or going back to drinking Boosts, or something else. But I tend to feel almost nauseous, which oddly tells me that I need to eat, so that feeling goes away. Damn my counter-intuitive stomach. I imagine this is a tiny slice of what pregnancy might feel like, only I will be over my weird stomach in a day or two, hopefully.

So it looks like I’ll give it a couple more days of recovery before I start moving the ole jaw around, see how I’m actually coming along. Right now it FEELS like I can open my jaw even LESS than before, but that’s largely because I’m scared to. Probably after the weekend, I’ll be ready to do some jaw-juts (a name I made up, where I stick my lower jaw out) and some jaw-jukes (another name I’m making up right now, where I’ll jigsaw my jaw back and forth), and some jaw-jigglers, where I put my jaw on top of Jell-o. The last one isn’t a real exercise, but I think it would feel pretty soothing.

Here’s my face, and also (coincidentally) me showing some Gavman pride. Have a great walk this weekend, Jaymar!

GAVMAN!
GAVMAN!

PAIN: 2

INCONVENIENCE: 4

REGRET FACTOR: 4

Day 29: Life on the Road

Focusing on the blank space was an artistic choice.
Focusing on the blank space was an artistic choice.

I’m back at my office this week. I anticipated this being pretty easy, as the super awesome Jaymar had gotten us a NutriBullet, which I took with me to puree soups and other such lunches. Turns out I was wrong, but not about the preparation of the food, but about the cleanup. At home, it goes like this:

  • choose a soup and dump it into a blender cup. Blend it.
  • Transfer contents to a microwavable cup. Microwave it and clean the blender cup and blade immediately. (If I make two cups’ worth, I’ll leave half in the blender cup and do two sets of transfer-and-microwave before cleaning the cup.)
  • Eat.
  • Take dishes to sink (with insinkerator) and clean them immediately.
  • Brush choppers and put bands back on. (Are there too many choppers?)

The whole process probably takes an hour, although I tend to let my brain rest a bit during my meals.

Now at the office, the only sink I have is a communal bathroom sink. That people use for regular hygiene. So they probably don’t want bits of blended up food in it. As such, I have to bring ALL my dirty dishes to the bathroom, clean them meticulously (with my own soap and scrub brush I bought), and then do my best to clean the sink as there’s no “DESTROY THE EVIDENCE” switch like in my kitchen. Then I bring everything back to my office where I try my best to dry it. Then I go BACK to the bathroom with a tooth-cleaning regiment, brush my teeth, put my bands back on, and head back to the office.

Suffice to say I’ll probably be splitting my time pretty evenly with home work (where eating is much easier) and office work (where I have a better chair and 2 monitors).

Aaaaaaaaaaaand I just had my first sneeze since my surgery (bands on). That… that did not go well. Apparently my office sink isn’t the only thing that extremely messy.

I have my 4-wk meeting with the surgeon today, so I’ll likely blog about that tomorrow.

PAIN: 2.5 (every morning I wake up with some pain b/c I sleep on my side, but it goes away within about 30 mins of waking up, usually not to come back until sleep time)

INCONVENIENCE: 5 (that sneeze)

REGRET FACTOR: 2

Day 16: Slumber, Slumber, Toil and… well, just basically toil

Last night was another miserable night of sleep. Not too much pain, just totally unable to find a comfortable position to sleep in. As such, my alarm went off at 8:30 and I couldn’t muster up anything more than one arm to turn it off. Went back to bed until 10.

Tried¬†the lasagna smoothie for lunch. With water. And more water. And milk. And vegetable broth. It was probably more than 1:1 liquid to lasagna. As such, there was quite an abundance of it. It tasted as good as could be expected, I suppose, from blending up a food that was definitely only meant to be a solid. I’m going to have meal #3 with no bands shortly – more lasagna smoothie and some yogurt.

But really, I need to take a minute to thank Ash. It might have sounded dismissive on Monday when I said I was “on my own”, but that’s not true. Ash has gone above and beyond the call of wife to be a general caretaker for me these last two weeks. Even when gone, she checks on me and leaves me some ingredients in the fridge to make my own meals. She also nags me to drink water, to exercise – you know, all the things I asked her to do, knowing full well that (now) I was going to be push back against all of them.

The reason I left the hospital – and Ash actually wanted me to stay an extra day as a mental health day for her so she could actually sleep – was because I trusted her more than my nurses. When I felt like I was going to vomit early on, she ran out guns-ablazing to get nurses to come help me; the call button had received wait times of over 20 minutes. I trusted her to cut my bands off in an emergency more than I would trust myself.

She’s made the entire process palatable. There hasn’t been judgement of my total lack of interest in doing anything but playing Oblivion. There hasn’t been resentment at having to wait on me hand and foot – even getting me more water when she knows damn well I could get up and get it myself at this point.

When I do start going into my work office (I’ll likely work from home next week and not try the office until after that), I’ll bring our new NutriBullet (courtesy of Jaymar, Jen, and Casey!)¬† to work, and Ash will send me with pre-prepared smoothie ingredients already in the blender cup. She’d probably put on my pants if I asked her to, but hey, I try not to abuse the system TOO much.

Pre-surgery doublie.
Pre-surgery doublie.

Thanks ladycakes! You rock my rocks.

PAIN: 2

INCONVENIENCE: 5

REGRET FACTOR: 2

Day 15: 2nd Follow-Up Appointment

Dinnertime, BUT WHAT'S HAPPENING OVER THERE?
Dinnertime, BUT WHAT’S HAPPENING OVER THERE?

Dr. M said I was looking great. I tried to give him a coquettish smile, but with my mouth still not working properly, I don’t think he got it. He took off the bands and saw how far I could open my mouth (good improvement), listened to me talking a bit, and then did my favorite thing ever: he brushed my teeth. He surprised me (and my increasingly cumbersome gag reflex) by jamming the toothbrush all the way between my teeth. After a stop-and-start (I basically grabbed the toothbrush out of his hand and pulled it out), he got back in there and cleaned the inside. It was the second-most glorious thing that happened today. (That is what we in the writing industry call foreshadowing.)

He said all is looking good and that I should be taking the bands off a few times a day, not just once, so it looks like I’m going to have a normal regiment of meals. They’ll take longer than a normal lunch, which is something I’ll have to remember when I go back to work, but it’ll be a few hours each day I’ll be able to open my jaw.

Oddly, I’m pretty sure my jaws have Stockholm Syndrome. The second they’re free, they immediately do exactly what they were doing before being liberated: clamping together. It’s taking much concentration but I’m trying to really relax my jaw both in the bands and out. It’s relieving my head pressure.

Speaking of which, I did figure out something last night with my sleeping. I went back to the bed, but we brought along two square throw pillows to put under my pillow so my pillow sits in a bit of a trough. Then, I can sleep on my side but my face itself is still angled towards the ceiling a bit, taking the pressure off my jaws. I was able to fall asleep somewhat fast and basically slept through the night. No neck pain either (which I thought would be a natural consequence of doubling my pillow height). Also, Doubling My Pillow Height – worst metal band name ever.

So Ash’s folks made me this delicious beef broth (which Ash mixed with mashed potatoes and blended it up), and I also had a full yogurt for dinner and half a smoothie. My weight seems to have reverse plateau’ed (trenched?) at 170, about 11 pounds down from when I started. I was oddly hoping for a little more, what with me having put on a bunch, but I guess I get to start working out once my body is ready for it.

After dinner, I got to brush again, and that’s when the earlier cliffhanger picks back up. The toothbrush I got at Dr. M’s office was slightly less tall than the baby one I use, and I was able to get it between my teeth fairly easy and brush the insides of my entire mouth. PLUS, and there is no fathomable way I could overstate how important this is, I was able – after some finagling – to brush the bottom of the splint. It had, over the course of two weeks, accumulated what I can only describe as a festering coat¬†of gangrenous mucus pus slime. I think that adequately describes it. It was making me nauseous at times and my tongue had become pretty adept at avoiding that part of my mouth for about a week now. At long last, it is almost entirely clean. Now it just feels like I’m licking a plastic toy, which I’m okay with, given the alternative.

Also, Gangrenous Mucus Pus Slime – best metal band name?

This is the part of the recovery I was oddly looking forward to – just playing a ton of Oblivion all day. I was also going to play some Kerbal Space Program, but I’m still not certain my brain is ready for rocket science. I *did* manage to pack up all the indoor Xmas decorations today, so I at least got some movement in.

Productive day.

PAIN: 1

INCONVENIENCE: 5

REGRET FACTOR: 2 (maybe less if blending that lasagna Granny made tastes as good as it does in my mind)

Oh the Times (for my surgery), they are a changin’

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Specifically December 21. December 21¬†was the worst of times, as Dr. M can’t appear to wrangle up an assistant for his surgery during the week of Xmas, which is necessary. His staff asked if that’s okay. I’m tempted to tell him that, nah, he’s gotta figure out how to do it by himself and keep the date. But instead I kowtowed and said it was fine. The new date is the following Monday, December 28.

This doesn’t change a whole lot in the big picture. I get Christmas with the family, which is nice, and I have a little more time to get rid of the cold-from-hell. In fact, that’s causing an interesting thing to happen. Normally, patients of this surgery go and draw¬†one unit of blood to “donate” to themselves during¬†surgery in case of an emergency. I was set to do it last week, but got super sick, and rescheduled for this coming Monday. I’m still not healthy and they probably wouldn’t take my blood now anyway. So the¬†surgeon just said “Don’t worry about it, I haven’t used that extra blood in years, if not decades, so if you need some, we’ll just get it from the blood bank.” Gotta admit that does make me a little edgy, but I’ll give benefit of the doubt to the dude who’s done this for 29 years. Plus, if I remember, I got really common blood.

The rescheduling also takes off one week where Ash had planned on helping me recover (the 21st would have been the first of 3 weeks off for her). Technically she can still help me that third week, but it’s time off from work with no pay. Personally, and based on what I’ve read, I should be self-sufficient by the 3rd week. Maybe I might need help for a few days, but certainly not the week. We’ll need some help with schlepping the kids around and stuff, but I think we’ll make it work.

Finally, I’m now on the Twitter if you want to get updates as to when I write blogs and don’t want to do the RSS feed thing.¬†https://twitter.com/iancallipydge. Stalk me proper and be rewarded with silliness and a seeming lack of comprehension for what hashtags are meant for.

24 days left (for the second time) until surgery.

P.S. Buddy and constant disc-golf rival Dave McHale helped me with the revamp of my blog, which was running on the wordpress equivalent to Windows 3.5. Thanks for your work, Dave! I owe you a beer, and I’ll even fetch it for you!

2500 Words On Not Being the Best – Reflections of the SFIF

I still vividly remember the words that Richard Digby Day said to me as I trained at the London Academy of Theatre in 2000. He said, “Derek, you are good at very many things. My fear is that you won’t be very good at anything”. It has stuck with me, both in times when I prove him wrong (when my musical got picked to be at the Fringe festival, when I won a professional disc golf tournament), and in the dishearteningly more common instances when he was right.

I feel like most of my life I was a big fish in a small pond. My silly comedy poems would get picked for our high school writing newsletter despite them being not “high art”. I would be cast in every play and musical – never as the lead, but always as a sizeable supporting character. I was a four-year varsity athlete and even made all-county my senior year (in bowling – don’t judge). I got scholarships for singing and education. In short, I think my achievements, which seemed to take place almost solely in high school, sort of set me up for this belief that I could do everything exceptionally well when really I was just edging out my competition pool that was based solely on a close proximity to my high school. But then getting accepted to Mason Gross school of the Arts (a conservatory) meant beating odds of 27 in 700+. Clearly I had to be something great.

However, when I joined the best-of-the-best, I was mediocre. Perhaps even below average. Surely being a shorter-than-average giant is a nice laurel to flaunt, but it wasn’t exactly what I’d anticipated. I branched off with friends and created Prometheus Productions, where I was a writer, ¬†actor, singer, director, fight choreographer, improv-artist, and musician. Another thing to hang my hat on? Well, perhaps. I was not the best writer (Kevin was), the best actor (Bryan, Paul, Dierdre…), the best singer (Dierdre, Bryan), the best director (Kevin), the best improv-er (Will, Jaime), the best musician (god, most of the group). I maybe was the best fight choreographer. If during that time you’d asked me what my best talent of that group was, I’d say improv. I felt most at home there and, next to other people who (like me) had never received a lick of improv training, I felt strong.

7 years later, having moved to Reno, I found myself again as a performer in an area that wasn’t exactly teeming with Broadway-ready talent, or so I thought. I did a couple of open-mic comedy nights and slayed, I would play an open-mic music nights and quickly became one of the favorites of the organizer. More to the point, I joined an improv troupe where I was quickly promoted to head actor and even head of the creative (despite the fact that the organizer herself TAUGHT improv). Clearly, I was right about my skills, no?

Fast forward a few years. That group had disbanded and in a very offhanded conversation with a man with whom I’d been improvising with (as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity of all things) he mentioned I should contact The Utility Players about auditions since “I had chops”. I did and was greeted very professionally that they didn’t need more actors. When I mentioned I was a musician too (never hurts to list all the talents, huh?), I got myself into the group as their musician. This is not what I wanted. After all I was one of the best improvisational actors among my friends who were, undoubtedly, extremely talented people.

The mama-bear of The Utility Players, to her credit, never led me on. I was not going to be an actor (except in one-liner games, which were admittedly my strength anyway). But I wanted to prove her wrong. At rehearsals when we were all playing together I would volunteer to get up and, in my own way, I was out to prove that I could flex my NYC-based improv knowledge and prove I not only belonged, but I was better than these Reno-based yokels. I must’ve showed them, right?

No. For two reasons.

One, they’re good. I mean, they’re really really good. Reno or not (and most of them aren’t from here), they’re talented both at being funny and at mastering the actual craft of improv, which don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Two, and this was surprising, I would do shitty shitty improv. There are any number of reasons why this happened (I was used to driving a scene with players who weren’t as seasoned, I just had a big ego, I couldn’t artistically trust this group of strangers who definitely seemed like their own little clique, or, and let’s not discredit this, I wasn’t as good as I thought I was), and that’s largely irrelevant. The point is, I was not up to their level.

So I became their full-time musician. There was a lengthy period of time where I struggled to come to grips with that. It seemed like a demotion particularly because I don’t consider piano playing to be even in my top 5 talents. Composition perhaps. But playing? I’m not great. It’s a hobby of mine, and not one of my primary hobbies. However, very limited playing acumen can be hidden with enough knowledge of the improv craft itself. So my years of improv background were still useful. It’s been a weird road, but I’m okay saying that I’m the musician. Not “just” the musician, but I am the musician for this group.

And with that – and here I hope I’m not overreaching my influence – The Utility Players were strengthened as a unit with me at the keys.

Now what in the hell does this entire backstory have to do with the San Francisco Improv Festival? After several years of failed audition tapes, The Players were finally selected to be a part of the festival, a tremendous achievement as only 27 groups were invited, most of whom were local to the area. There would be classes taught in and amongst the myriad performances scattered through a few weeks of improvisational bliss. Even though I was unable to attend most of the pre-show stuff due to family obligations, I did manage to take in a few things.

The 4-hour class sampler had people from all walks attending – those who’d never done improv to those who were performing later that night. The skills which were drilled ranged from exceptionally useful to maybe-not-for-me-personally to I’m-pretty-sure-this-is-only-applicable-to-the-woman-teaching-it. Due to an awesome anonymous donor, I (along with the entire troupe) was able to check it out and learn from it. I gotta be honest, it felt good to be up and in the thick of things once again – I hesitate to say ‘performing’ because that wasn’t the purpose. This time I felt like I belonged.

But where I was hit with the largest metaphorical ton of bricks was during our show itself. We were splitting the bill with a group that was purporting to do a 35-minute improv musical. I’d been assured that the other musicians our troupe had seen were pretty lousy. Not that I needed to be the best, but as an untrained musician specializing in another artform that I’d also never really received proper training, it’s nice to know I wasn’t against a musician with a BFA from a music conservatory. I’m a perfectionist, inasmuch as any person who refuses to just concentrate on one skill for more than 5 minutes at a time can be a perfectionist.

When the lights went down for our show, so too did our piano. For a few fleeting moments, I was on stage as the musician with my ONLY tool, the piano, no longer making any noise. It did prompt a funny moment where I was supposed to play the ESPN Sportscenter music, and when the cue came, I just shouted it out. I’m pretty sure that’s what they do on ESPN.

Our set was very free, very easy, and solid. I’m not sure what my expectations were – I mean, there’s a part of me that wanted there to be a TV executive in the audience who was just coming for a few laughs but spent her entire intermission scribbling out contracts for all of us. What did transpire was 35 minutes of successful improv that earned the laughter of a discerning audience who had seen more than their fair share of improv over the years (hell, over the prior week).

It was topsy-turvy. A Day in the Dream Life is a game I warned that has been missing as often as it was hitting, but it was our clear best of the night (and it allowed me to play my token Asian music). Mediocre Olympics, a game that had been killing, was the weakest of the lot. But as much as this was about us and putting our best foot forward, it was more about the audience enjoying themselves. And they did. Even without our A+ material (I’d have put the show in a solid B, B+ range) we proved without pause that we belonged with the others at the improv festival.

Then, as I watched our “sister-group” do their musical, a few things occurred to me. The Utility Players are not a niche group, we perform all different types of short form improv. It’s not like we concentrate solely on 2-person scene games or anything like that. The group that followed us was a group that does entire long-form musicals based on a suggestion from the audience. Having already been informed that some of the other musicians at the festival couldn’t hold a candle to me (who, in all truth, can’t hold a candle to most true musicians) are lousy, I cringed at the thought of watching 35 minutes of actors bumbling through misrhymed lyrics as a musician attempted vainly to play the outtakes from Frozen.

In this I was very, very wrong.

Their musician started with this jaunty riff right out of a Randy Newman score that featured the whole cast performing a song about kissing. With harmony. And multiple people singing the same words at the same time. And appropriate incidental background singing. And a cohesive story. Following this was a short scene, a new song, one that I daresay WOULD come second in a musical, setting up the protagonist of the story. The third song was completely different, a touching number of exposition that created the subplot between two secondary characters.

There was a time with Prometheus Productions that we had wanted to do an “improv play”, a full play with characters and subplots where there was a “director” offstage who crafted the story around what the actors on stage were doing. We ended up shelving the idea as too difficult. And here, 15 years later, in San Francisco, was a group doing this with song. It was an eye-opener.

And my point here isn’t that they were “better” than us. They were a nuanced group who had a specialty that they practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And consequently nailed. If you were keeping track of laughs garnered, we’d have won handily, but that wasn’t what the evening was about. It was about bringing a variety of improv to the audience. If anything, short-form (Whose Line is It Anyway type stuff) seems to be a dying art, with troupes wanting to tackle the more complex longform. So getting paired with something of an opposite of us was nice. I guess we weren’t totally opposite or else the other group would have just read eulogies for 35 minutes.

Immediately I had to make the assumption that my director, in telling me that the other musicians were nothing to write home about, was off her rocker (it turns out she hadn’t seen him in particular). He was phenomenal. I mean, during that second half, I went from feeling like I’d performed a great improv set to realizing I had my moments but I was just the biggest kid at the kids table at Thanksgiving. Hell, he seemed like he was the kind of guy who graduated with a degree from a conservatory in music. Also, not to take a thing away from our exceptionally talented group, but their singers GOT it. They knew when to give over to another person to sing, then knew when it was time to take the reins, and they knew when it was time duet.

In all, I relate the entire experience to sports. It would be like being a top-tier baseball team who had the opportunity to play another team from another country in an exhibition game. And all they did was pitching, not hitting or fielding. It’s impossible to play a game like that and see who would win, but damn, I felt like we couldn’t touch their pitches. Our team is major leaguers, no doubt, but there’s always new things to learn.

Now, there’s a crossroads that happens at times like this. I can buckle down like I did my freshman year of acting when I was on the verge of being asked to leave the class for artistic progress difficulties, or I could fold like I did with my acting after 9/11 when no agents were banging on my door to hire me. And here’s what the purpose is for the SFIF from an artist’s perspective: I left inspired. Inspired to make our group better. Inspired to play better and more diversely. Inspired to create new games, or touch up the ones we have that aren’t hitting on all cylinders. Inspired to make sure that our upcoming 3-month run at The Sands turns into many 3, 6, 9, 12, 24 month contracts at bigger and better venues. Touring companies. TV execs with handwritten contracts on cocktail napkins because they couldn’t wait to get home and draft one properly.

“And I stood there like a businessman waiting for a train. And I got ready for the future to arrive.” -J. Darnielle

As something of a post-script, I did some research on that other pianist, and he did indeed earn a degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. This isn’t discouraging. Sure, next to me, he shined, but he didn’t leave me in the dust. We share the intellectual concepts and the impulses of improvisational music. He just has me on technical skill. Looks like I got some work to do. Playing piano and watching a group do a musical and, in fact, the idea that we want to expand our musical presence is having one “unfortunate” side-effect: as much as I am okay not being an actor, it’s tough to not want to sing in the musical games, as that was one of my two strengths as an actor (the other being one-liner games like World’s Worst). Looks like I also got some work to do.

As something of a post-post-script, don’t miss out on The Utility Players Season 8: Live at the Sands, every Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and you’re gonna laugh.

My Trip East – Part 2 (What Went Wrong)

Note: this is probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written. Forgive the typos and tense-shifting, I’m not proofreading.

By now, you’ve probably read why I went east. The reason wasn’t fun, but I was looking forward to it. However, Ash was going with me on the flight, and as you know, when Ash flies anywhere, things just go wrong. Not only was this trip not an exception, it might have set the standard for all future shitty trips.

This is as comprehensive a list as I could remember of what went wrong. I’m leaving off minor things like the food we ordered not coming out right (which happened a few times during the trip) or the muggy weather. This is everything else, broken down by day.

THURSDAY

We heard the bad news and booked a flight. Landen had less than 24 hours notice, but he handled it like a champion. While not totally packed, we were pretty good that night. Our flight left Friday at 10:40, enough time for me to get an hour or two of work in.

FRIDAY

After a little more packing (but not everything), I head to the office to work. Landen comes in a few minutes later saying, “Mommy needs your help.” I go to her and she says “Call 9-1-1.” Duncan had been choking and vomiting and crying for about 20 seconds by this point. I call them and the responders show up almost immediately. This is a little over 3 hours before our flight. By the time they arrived, whatever he’d swallowed made it past and he was okay, though shaken up. Ash had found an envelope with some coins and he had a penny in his hand. We assumed it was a coin, but we weren’t sure.

Because we weren’t sure, they recommended going to the ER to get an X-Ray, make sure it wasn’t a) anything sharp or b) a quarter. Ash says she still needs to pack, but I tell her to take Duncan to the ER and I will get Landen ready and we’ll go. At worst, Landen and I would still make the trip, but Ash and Duncan might not. Turns out they did make it (after security, we were there about 45 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off – our flight was actually late anyway, but we didn’t know that at the time.)

But in my haste to pack, which I wasn’t ready for, I left some stuff at home: Landen’s blankie and stuffed monkey Buddy, Duncan’s birth certificate, and some berries. Most of these would actually be irrelevant, but not all. In the process of packing, my back gave out. It would continue to get worse every day of the trip.

The flights were fine, and the airline didn’t ask for Duncan’s birth certificate at all, so we dodged a bullet there. Actually, somehow (and I’m still not 100% sure of how this happened), Landen managed to flush his underwear down the airplane toilet, and for the rest of the trip, every time he went to the bathroom he was deathly afraid of losing his underwear.

SATURDAY

This was a day where we were just going to take it easy. For the most part we did. We even managed to sneak away and see some friends so they could meet the boys. Landen and Nathaniel (Aaron’s son) got along great and played with cars and trains until they were well-past bedtime. It was this night that I broke my diet. I will have more about that in Part 3 of this journey.

SUNDAY

Because of the last-minute nature of this trip, we didn’t work out many logistics. Thankfully, Tracy and Jerry were AWESOME and flexible and extremely accommodating. They let us use their car to drive to CT for the wake and burial, for which we were extremely grateful, and they even watched Landen for two days while we did it. The drive up was rather uneventful, though we later heard we just missed a mega accident that forced Aaron and Julia to turn around and not make it. That might have been the one bit of luck that actually found its way to us.

A second thing we didn’t have planned was where we were going to sleep while in CT. Worst came to worst, we’d get a hotel. But Jaymar had given me the # of a buddy of his. I never got ahold of him, but while at the viewing, Jay and Jen hooked us up with this lovely couple (very good family friends of Jen’s) who volunteered to put us – total strangers – up for the night. They even gave us their GPS to find their place. They simply said “punch in HOME and you’re good to go.” Maybe things WERE looking up.

After the very painful viewing, Jay and Jen invited anyone who wanted to to come out for dinner and drinks and just some camaraderie. During dinner Duncan started getting fussy, so we made new plans. Ash would take the car to get Duncan back to Gail and Kevin’s (the very nice couple). I would hang with Jay, have a drink or two, and mooch a ride from somewhere back to their place. Great.

About twenty minutes later, I get a call. Ash says there’s a problem. She’d already been driving 20 minutes and the next direction on the GPS was to follow that road for 25 miles. Knowing something was wrong, she pulled over. Just then, she notices the AC in the car stopped. And the hood started smoking. GET OUT OF THE CAR! She pulled Duncan to safety, but now she had two problems. She was lost despite having a GPS and her car was leaking fluids in a not-at-all-good way. The next twenty minutes are spent in a mad game of Operator. Ash can’t reach Gail. She calls Triple A. Gail’s daughter (who happens to be at the bar – one of Jen’s close friends) is trying to reach Kevin, her dad, who is both a firefighter and a mechanic (convenient!) Finally, we make new plans. Kevin and Gail will take two cars to pick Ash up (she is probably 40 minutes from their house). Gail will drive Ash and Duncan back to their house, Kevin will wait for AAA to tow the car back to a VW dealership in the same town as the burial the next day.

We found out what happened with the GPS too – they have a summer home in Vermont, and they still had that address set at “home”, and Ash who is not from the area, didn’t realize it until too late. Yeah, that actually happened.

Meanwhile, at the bar, I decide to order one more very stiff drink, knock it back quickly, and head out with Gail and Kevin’s two kids and Jen’s sister to get back. I finally do make it back (before Ash) and at last we all arrive at Gail and Kevin’s house. The car was towed to the dealership, we hoped it wouldn’t be bad, and we tried to sleep. Nobody really succeeded, though. Duncan barely slept and Ash hardly slept because the only way Duncan would sleep is if they shared their (single) bed. I had a tough time sleeping because of my back.

MONDAY –¬†After Gail made breakfast (seriously, they went ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty for complete strangers) and we finally determined that our car would be looked at that day, we went to the burial. After the burial and before lunch, Kevin took us to the dealership, where they told us they had no news. Ash told them that we’d need to rent a car soon and we needed to know as soon as possible. They said they’d try.

After lunch, at Jay and Jen’s insistence, we headed back to their house for a few hours. This was to buy us time so hopefully we would get news of the car. We DID get a call saying it was a hose or belt, and that it wasn’t too big a deal, but they were going to replace it and run it a while to make sure nothing else had gone. Best case scenario (ha!!) Ash would be on her way with Duncan that night – Landen was getting very antsy without us by then – and she would drop me off at my boss’ place in south CT to stay with him.

They called back to say that the water pump had also gone and that would take a long time. Kevin agreed that that was a definite possibility given what he saw, and there’s NO WAY it would get done (they told us this news at 2). We begged and pleaded and explained our situation, and he said he’d try, but no promises. Ash gave up and just ordered a rental car. She and Duncan left and I was to wait for the car. Either I would be staying with Jay and Jen (which I had wanted to avoid – to give them their space) or I would have a car and would drive down to my boss’ house.

Jay and some friends decide he needs a walk, so we take a 2-3 mile walk at a nearby park. It was nice when we got there. With about 1/2 mile left, the winds pick up and the sky darkens. Suddenly, THROUGH THE WOODS we see a storm moving in. Someone’s phone rings – it’s a relative saying that the area is basically getting hurricane conditions. The skies open up. DOWNPOUR. Hail, lightning directly overhead. We assumed it was Gavin who had just found the weather control console and REALLY liked pushing the red button. Over and over again. We get back to the car drenched but okay. Just before the walk I had gotten confirmation that the maintenance crew busted their ass and the car was ready. Following a change into dry clothes, Jay and I have dinner and he drops me off to get it.

I bid farewell to my friend, pack up, and head to south CT. I meet my boss there and explain what has happened so far. I needed two drinks in me to even get it all out.

TUESDAY

My company asked me to come in for one day during the trip to meet some new employees. Also, Ken, the original boss, was celebrating his last day with the company at his upper west side home that night, so it just made sense. But now we had a problem. Ash was supposed to drop off her rental car in NJ, then wouldn’t have a way to get her, Landen, Duncan, two car seats, and a stroller into NYC, and Tracy wouldn’t be able to drive her because it was Knox’ first day of ¬†daycare. I was in the city with Tracy’s now-fixed car, but had no way of getting to Jersey. After many many many phone calls and planning, Ash changes her location to drop-off the car to a Hertz in NYC, not far from Ken’s, and that’s that.

However, at work, I spent an hour fighting with my computer, as it isn’t working properly. The IT team does a fix that works for about twenty minutes. Bear in mind, I hadn’t worked much of the last few days because of Gavin’s funeral, so I’m very far behind and need every minute I can get (particularly because the office was closing early for the party and 4th of July). Another hour passes and I give up and go to another computer. THAT one isn’t working properly either. We end up having a 2 hour conference call, further reducing the time I have to get stuff done. Add to that my cell phone stopped placing calls while in the city. I was not a happy camper.

Finally Ash comes in with the boys a little late and we start to head over in 90+ degree heat. We divert our trip a bit so we can hit the subway (Landen was promised a train ride). He had a great time on the trains, though they were too loud for his liking. The party itself was quite enjoyable, and I think I ate more red meat than I had in the past two years combined. Scrumptious.

By the time we finally made it back to West Milford, it was after 9. I had to lay down immediately because my back (remember that?) was in so much pain that basically utilizing the muscles hurt so so much. I had a glass of wine and went to bed, hoping it would be better in the morning.

WEDNESDAY

Fourth of July. And my back was worse than ever. I took two ibuprofen in the morning just to make it through the morning. After some pictures and last-minute packing, we head out to the airport about 1.5 hours early. When we check in, the guy asks us for Duncan’s birth certificate. We don’t have it. He says he can’t go on the flight. Ash and I don’t quite realize right away that he’s totally serious. He asks again and we tell him we really don’t have it – it’s in Reno. Ash points out that he has no teeth, can’t talk, and can’t stand. The guy replies: “I know old people that don’t have any teeth. I need proof of his date of birth. It’s on our website.” He tells us to have it faxed. By the time someone were to go to our house and get it and fax it over, we would have missed the flight. Ash breaks down while I try to get the hospital on the phone. (The Doctor’s office is closed, mind you, because it’s a holiday).

After two calls and speaking to 4 people, Ash gets this unpleasant woman who won’t help us – it’s against company policy to give out that information. Finally, the Southwest guy asks to speak to her. He runs around in circles for more than five minutes. The hospital wants authorization – we’re right here! We give it! – and then says that won’t work, they aren’t allowed to give that out. Finally, the Southwest guy says “Just say yes or no. Was Duncan born on 10/12/11? And she keeps fighting him, though at one point she says “yes, but I can’t fax you anything.” After more than five minutes of fighting (we’d probably been in line 25 minutes at this point), the guy instructs me to just hang up on her. He is willing to accept that very unofficial acknowledgment of his date of birth. He (fortunately) ushers us to the front of the security line and we make it through with about 15 minutes before our flight boards.

The flights themselves were okay – Duncan wouldn’t sleep unless he was being nursed, so Ash basically fed him for four hours. Landen did great on all the flights, but he’s still a 3-year-old and that’s draining.

At our layover, my back hurt now so much that I laid on the floor to try to fix it. And when I tried to get up, I couldn’t. I tried three times and I literally couldn’t use my back muscles to help me up. Ash brings more ibuprofen and I suck them down. We instruct Granny to meet us at the Reno airport with something stronger. It is probably the most (prolonged) pain I’ve ever been in.

The rest of the trip went without too much hassle and we made it home.

The results? My back is better now. Duncan DID swallow a penny (it came out during the wake), and all our hosts rocked our socks. We ¬†were able to be there for Jay and Jen, a few friends got to meet our kids, I got to have a send-off for the one-time boss who basically enabled me to move across country and marry Ashley… it wasn’t all bad.

But most of it sucked.

My Trip East – Part 1

This is going to be a several-part series about my unexpected trip east. It was originally just going to be about my diet (which I’ve made a few concessions on), but I figured I had to get more involved. There will be subsequent parts about my diet and about all the crazy stupid things that happened to us, but first, a moment to talk about why I left.

A very good friend of mine, Jason Marshall, and his wife Jen lost their 15-month old son Gavin a week ago. Gavin was born with¬†congenital nephrotic syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder that causes his kidneys to leak out proteins and other nutrients. ¬†While I never looked, I was told the mortality rate of this extremely rare condition was quite high (more than 50%?) So I don’t think anyone would ultimately say it was totally unexpected that he passed, but what made it most surprising was the timing.

The first year of this condition is the hardest, and he made it through more or less unscathed. Despite having to have frequent treatments (at first they were daily and then every other day, for four hours, in the hospital.) After many months, they were able to transition to home treatments, but any sort of complication (such as a low-grade fever) meant they had to go back to the hospital, and it was usually for several days or a week or more. However, after a month-long battle at the hospital a few months ago, Gavin had shown signs of doing the best he’d done – gaining weight, being in great health. Jen had recently taken a video of Gavin walking (with the assistance of holding onto things) ALL around the room. Then, last Thursday, he simply stopped breathing. Despite the valiant effort of the EMTs, they could not bring him back.

I heard this news at around 7:30 am last Thursday. By noon, I had already made plans for the whole family to head over to New Jersey and then Connecticut to be there for Jay and Jen. Now, I’m not a godparent to Gavin or anything, but I always felt there was an extra-special kinship that the Marshall family and ours shared, despite the kids never having met. Jay has probably spent more on cool onesies and gadgets for Duncan and Landen than we have, and I was fortunate enough to be able to give parenting advice here and there for Gavin (I was one of the first of Jay’s friends to be a father). So it was a no-brainer for me to be there.

Let me tell you about Gavin. In 15 months, he was able to touch more lives positively than most people strive to in a lifetime. He was loved like few others out there, and he loved with such amazing strength right back. He had a smile that melted hearts, and they melted often as he smiled all the time. There were a few things about Gavin I noticed in the two times I’d been fortunate enough to meet him. He was trusting, loving, and incredibly bright. He taught those around him so many things: how to fight, how to scooch, and how to love. But the one thing he taught over all else was how to smile amid adversity. His life was about as challenging as you could get for a child of any age, yet you’d be hard pressed to find a photo of him not grinning ear to ear. In fact, among the photos at the wake was one where someone had held up a clear drum-head, and Gavin put his mouth up to it and blew, puffing out his cheeks. It is one of the greatest photos I’ve ever seen.

As I said, I was lucky enough to meet him twice. Once when he was probably less than 3 months old. He slept for nearly all of the few hours I was at Jay’s house, though I did get to pick him up a few times when he eventually awoke. He was so light at the time, yet I still felt like I was holding not just a baby, but a whole person. The seeds for his glowing personality were already there. But it was the last trip I’ll always remember.

Last month I had to go east for work. I arranged it so I’d have a disc golf tournament to go to in CT. It was an excuse to try to get up to see Jay and Jen and Gavin. It became immediately apparent though that the plans just didn’t line up – Gavin was basically confined to his house on Saturdays for his treatment, and I had to be back in Jersey by 7 for another obligation. But I was driven at the time to see them for reasons I didn’t know then. I borrowed a car and woke up at 7:30 to drive 3 hours up to see them when he got up from his nap. Before I ¬†drove down 2 hours to practice at the disc golf course I would have at tournament, I squeezed in maybe 3 hours of hanging out. In all, I drove 5 hours out of my way. But I was resolute in my desire to go. While there, I got to witness firsthand the magic that is Gavin. I took some photos with him and of him playing with a friend’s 4-month-old. I got to watch him perfect the art of forward-scooching. I took him on a walk, just him-and-me, to the pond in the backyard, where we talked about fishing. And most dear to me, I got to play a simple game of rolling a ball back and forth with him for more than 5 minutes. At the time, I thought it was simply really cool. Now I think it’s one of the coolest thing I’ve done in a long time.

It’s not just me. The scope of people that Gavin affected is far-reaching. I would estimate there were several hundred people who filed in and out through the 4-hour ceremony. Family, friends, neighbors, and friends-of-friends. Perhaps the most touching was the stream of nurses and doctors who visited. I had heard that many nurses had stopped by, and those that weren’t there were covering other nurses’ shifts so more could come. I don’t know the tally, but I do know these people were simply doing their JOB and they fell in love with Gavin and had to pay a final visit. The nephrologist (sp?) came by too, and she had just retired two weeks previous. If one of my clients passed, I doubt I’d even know. When Gavin passed, everyone knew, and everyone cared more than they might have thought. I know I’ve cried more tears this week than I have in the last 5 years put together.

I’d met Gavin twice in fifteen months. In that time, I’ve not seen my mother at all, nor one of my brothers. I’d only seem my twin brother once. There was something special about Gavin, and I feel honored to have ever met him. I know many there at that wake had never had the pleasure.

Gavin Robert Marshall, rest in peace little buddy. Your smile has made – and will continue to make – countless people smile in return.

People Who Rule II

This entry’s batch of people who rule is brought to you by: me.

First off, in the selfish arena, the so-far only 2x winners of the People Who Rule award, The Stus (particularly Stu F.)¬† I won’t go into great detail, because Ash already did that over here.

The second person who rules is whoever made the following video.¬† If you have six minutes, click on the “HD” button and watch something that will both blow your mind and put you in a trance.¬† Simply beautiful.

People Who Rule: Volume 1

I’m starting a new segment on my blog, and it’s dedicated to giving love to the people who rule.¬† These may be people I know, and these may be people I have just heard about in the news, but they are all deserving people.¬† Pretty much, an easy way to become a Person Who Rules is to give us stuff.¬† I mean, that’s not necessary to get the nod, but it certainly won’t hurt your chances.¬† And that’s how the four people who are going up in the first installment all got in – free stuff.

First runner up is Jaymar, who got us the housewarming gift of a do-it-yourself home-repair book.  I had recently mentioned to Ash how I wanted to pick up some new books because, outside of making some theatre flats in high school and upholstering an ottoman in naugahyde in college, my home skills are pretty lacking.  In addition, he got us a nice set of wind chimes.  Pretty awesome!

The next runner up in the inaugural award is Ashley’s brother Brandon.¬† Yesterday, the day before we were going to go out and pick up a $35 Christmas tree for our first place (which was certainly a bargain in its own right), we get a call that he has an extra 6′ Christmas tree and do we want it?¬† Ummmmm, yes?¬† Apparently, his work bought them for all employees and either they miscounted or just fired someone because they had an extra one.¬† So we get a new tree sometime in the next hour or two for free – and he’s driving it out here for us!¬† Double awesome!

But the actual people who rule this week are the Stus.¬† I don’t think I need to expound on why they’re awesome in general, between Jen Stu’s cooking to Jay Stu’s cooking (???) and their overall awesomeness and hospitality, to the simple fact that we all call each other Stu.¬† That should be enough.¬† But then they went above and beyond.¬† We get a package earlier last week for “Little Stu” and it’s a very nice gift certificate to Amazon for him.¬† We still haven’t decided what to get, but we are looking into a few options.¬† Then, the kicker, a few days later we get a SET OF KNIVES.¬† Ashley has pretty much crapped herself every time she uses them.¬† She’ll come up to me with “…and I cut the tomato, and I didn’t even have to put pressure on the knife, it just cut!”¬† I’ve tried them too.¬† It is a bit of an enlightened moment to dice with them, that’s for sure.

All right, that wraps up #1. I’ll probably space them out more in the future to give everyone the props they deserve, but for now, here’s a whole bunch of People Who Rule.