Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Day

I am on severe restriction--no projects, etc.--well into November according to my surgeon, who is a pretty cool guy. I found out that he plays in a rock back with some other doctors, and they actually play at some clubs in St. Pete and Tampa, which is remarkable because not too many places have live music these days, at least not around here.

Back in my day (a phrase I may start using more often), live music was everywhere. Sure, the clubs had DJs on intermission, but the bands were the real draw, whether you played in a high-energy dance band for the upscale pretty people or you appealed, as in my case, to the more tattooed, excitable segment of society. Yes, things were definitely better in my day.

Sometimes I wonder how young people today can even get out of bed in the morning with such a pitifully meager prospect of fun and adventure. All good intentions, moderation and restraint. How very sad. Not in my day.

Today is still my day, but now my idea of excitement is watching a movie and having some popcorn with Cheryl or playing with the dogs or writing or just doing nothing. Lately I am doing more nothing.

Because I can't lift anything or take a chance walking our puppy on his leash (since he may rip out my internal organs along with my arm from its socket), the dogs and I are all having fun in the backyard, where they can chase each other and play. Little did he know that his much older girlfriend Willow is a world-class Frisbee player who can jump and grab things from the air and run circles around him. Take that, youth!

(Note to self: This post may reflect some frustration with my recovery from surgery and not actual curmudgeonness.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Laughter and Pain

Cheryl was away yesterday on a school trip, leaving me to long day of movies and a nice walk with Willow--both of us long overdue for some real exercise and fresh air. She and I walked all the way around the block with no problem, though I imagine the neighbors wondered if I was drunk, putting one foot in front of the other in such a slow and careful manner. Willow, too, kept looking at me with a sort of amused contempt. Let's go, man, she seemed to say.

My scar and my overall sense of well-being are much improved, but I still am not able to laugh or cough without sending a ripping spasm of pain through my stomach. So naturally I decided to watch a movie last night that was certain to make me laugh. I made some popcorn, got comfortable and was doing fine until this scene forced me to pause the movie. It's just a matter of will power, I told myself and reached down into the calm center of my being, determined to control my emotions and watch the scene without laughing, only discover that I have no calm center. Tried again, pause, then again, pause, and finally had to turn off the movie and go to bed. I tried again this morning. Turned it off again.

Who knows what makes us laugh? I'm guessing that many people would find the scene to be juvenile, even offensive. It seems to makes fun of people with speech problems, but that's not why it is funny, I'm sure (except I don't know why it is funny).

Maybe it's funny because we like to laugh at pompous, clueless people. If so, shouldn't it be simple, then, to choose not to laugh. In fact, as hard as I try, I just cannot watch it, not at all, and if I try one more time I will bust a stitch. Maybe next week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

No, the Well's not Dry

It seems my fears of a dry well were wholly unfounded and exaggerated--the water contractor guy barely hide his contempt for my ignorance of all things well-related. I am so relieved to have the water running once again that I will not mention here what a sloppy and half-assed job he did, except that it goes to reinforce my opinion about contractors in general and my whole raison d'ĂȘtre in specific.

Oh yes, he did what he said he would do: replaced the burned-out pump and got the lines wired up correctly. But he left the place a mess when he easily could have tidied things up. What kind of a professional walks off with a tangled mass of wires when it takes only a minute or two to tie them up?

And when one of the valves was clearly stuck, he pretended not to notice, though I saw that crazy-squirrel look in his eyes--him not knowing if I knew it was stuck. "Is that valve stuck?" I asked the squirrel-man, who then dropped his nuts. "Duh. Yeah, I guess it is," he admitted. "I can fix it." Here I am, recovering from surgery, and I had to stand there and supervise this guy like he was 10 years old.

As god is my witness, I'll never call a contractor again. Probably never again.

It's nice to see the water running again. The koi were clearly pleased, swimming under the waterfalls like they had all just returned from a hike in the desert.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Has the Well Gone Dry?

Today the main water pump for the outside system would not come on, which means that the fish ponds, which are low on water now and a sad sight to see, can only be filled using the chlorinated house water, and this would upset the natural bacterial balance. So, for the second time in a month, I've called a contractor to come out and take a look at something I am pathetically unable to fix on my own. At least this time I have an excuse, since my stomach has a gash that a bowling ball could pass through--almost.

The pump is on a timer, one of those complex, multi-line computers with knobs and sliders and settings that I don't understand, which is OK because I ran over some of its wires with a lawn mower last year anyway, so now the thing is either on or off, sending water through the one line that I have manually opened, with a direct shot to the fish pond, except now the pump won't even come on. Worst case: the well has gone dry, in which case our little fishes are in trouble. The guy tomorrow will know the answer.

My mom used to say "play me some blues." She was a big fan of the blues and big band music, partly because she lived in Memphis for a few years. She told me that she and my dad would go dancing in the big ballroom at the Peabody Hotel. Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa. And I think she saw Billie Holiday there.

I'm sure she realized that I was a mediocre musician, at best, but she always encouraged me to play in clubs, even when it meant that I was not pursuing a real career or a normal life.

This is no particular song and is full of stupid mistakes, but I've done worse. I call it "Oh baby, has the well gone dry?"

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Trained Squirrel

The King and Queen of Cuba stopped by last night for a game of Parcheesi, Thai food, Cheryl's scones and some idle talk. I was having trouble sitting up but I really wanted to visit with the royal couple, so I took some pain medicine, reducing my Parcheesi threat to the level of a trained squirrel. (And also, I had never played before.) We did have a nice time.

Today is calm with Cheryl and Bingo back at school and me back in my office. I caught up with email and fixed some problems. Nap at 10:30, lunch at noon, probably back for another nap this afternoon. Someone, somewhere, has a better life, but I would have to be convinced.

I have a picture of my mom above my desk. She is smiling, holding a fishing pole with a tiny fish flapping in the air. She's wrapped up tight--this was taken at a cold lake in Minnesota. I notice her fingers are bent with arthritis, probably painful in the cold weather. But still smiling. She always smiled even after her bones started to break from osteoporosis and her headaches and so on. She liked to complain, for sure, but mostly she kept smiling and laughing.

Laughing is one thing I can't do right now. I have to fight it off because it sends a searing pain through my right side. Cheryl makes me laugh all the time--I didn't realize how much.

This morning I explained to Willow that I'm not ready to do any projects. I need a brief sabbatical, with pay. She wants to discuss it with her supervisors, but I think I'm in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Showing my Scar?

Today I'll take my first bath since Thursday morning, before surgery. To be more accurate, I will take a shower because there's no way I could get into and then out of our bath tub. But first my bandage comes off and, we were told, the wound should get fresh air from this point on. I'm not crazy about taking off this thick, cushy shock-absorber, but at this point I just do what I'm told.

Cheryl has her hands full with Bingo and me, and she does it without complaining or fussing. I am really a lucky guy.

I've flirted with the idea of posting a picture of my scar, which I'm guessing will look like a pale and pimply Thanksgiving turkey, ready for the oven, with stuffing sewed up in the its gut. But why would anyone want to see a swollen, painful looking scar?

Yesterday CNN showed a film over and over. On a subway station, a baby stroller breaks free from a group of adults and rolls right over the edge and disappears just before a train comes by. The baby was not harmed--the train just pushed the stroller down the track for several yards, but none of this is on camera. The CNN viewer sees only the horror and imagines the worst.

Back in 1984 I was in a bad car wreck and during my recovery I spent hours watching a new channel called CNN, which at that time (to the best of my memory) covered real news. Today CNN has learned what every class clown learns in grade school--to get attention, you have to show your ass. Or maybe your scar.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I had hoped to post a blog immediately after surgery so that I could record my feelings. As you know, they wheel you right from the operating table out to your car now so that you can get on with your life and not chew into the shareholder's profit margin. But to be fair, I preferred to come home instead of spending a night in the hospital. Also, to be fair, the people at the surgery center were professional, friendly and caring.

And even though I quit taking pain medicine yesterday (I HATE the feeling), my mind today is still muddy, and I can't seem to stay focused on anything. After surgery (I've had several) you get the feeling that time is suspended and that things may never be normal again. I can't imagine doing yoga or working on a project. I wonder if this is a self-preservation response--your body telling you to stay down, fool.

Everything went well, though, I am told. The surgeon told Cheryl I had a huge hernia but it's fixed and with a big mesh patch to keep it from happening again. No wonder this was a condition that kept you out of the army in the first and second world wars--back before the patch.

No driving, no lifting, no nothing until Oct. 27, which seems like a lifetime away. Already, today is better than yesterday. I pooped, in case you are keeping a diary. Maybe not a big deal for you, but for me...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

With Apologies to Beethoven

There is nothing sadder than an idiot making a recording and posting it to the Internet, especially when the recording is full of bad notes and immature playing. But the idea has been in my head for a while now. Call it vanity--I'm not sure what it is. I have some good excuses if you read on.

I played music for a living for about 12 years, most of the time in night clubs and bars but also for parties, wedding receptions, whatever would pay. At a time in life when most people are building their careers and families, I was staring at my keyboard or at a dance floor full of drunk people. And I really loved it.

Then I moved away, met Cheryl, got married, and yesterday was our 18th anniversary. So while I loved being a musician, I love my current life even more. Along the way Cheryl convinced me to buy a nice piano. I practice almost every day and I continue to learn things and improve. At some point, though, I know that my fingers or brain will start to give out. So, that's my excuse: better make some recordings before it is too late.

Also, tomorrow is my hernia surgery, so I will be unable to start the bathroom project for a while and I need some interim subjects here. Apparently I will not be allowed to live-blog from the operating room tomorrow (hospital rules), but I do plan to do a post while I am still pretty sedated, also for posterity's sake.

Beethoven wrote the Pathetique sonata when he was 28. He was a crazy, dark, passionate guy, and if he were alive today he would gut me like a fish for playing like this. I recorded the first movement 3 times and screwed up the chromatic run at the end each time. Oh, well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mother of all Projects

During those days of waiting for the new faucet to arrive in the mail, I was forced to take showers in the guest bathroom. Our claw foot tub is an old one, and it requires a faucet made only by monks living on a remote mountain top in Norway, which may explain the delay in shipping.

I never thought that anything would be preferable to taking a shower, but I love our little tub, especially now with its new finish and new faucet. Can you really scrub your feet when taking a shower? Can you cover yourself with bubbles? (Tell the truth.)

After a few days in the shower Cheryl and I came to the same conclusion: the next project should be guest bathroom. The tiles are discolored and chipped and cracked and broken on the walls and floor. The shower has a really sloppy repair job, the tiles bowed out and threatening to burst out from the wall. It's a wonder our guests have never complained about it.

This won't be an ordinary project. We'll start by gutting the room--everything, down to the toilet, sink and light fixtures. Then we'll rip out the existing tile and strip the walls down to the 2 x 4s. Start with a clean slate. Just the prep work will a big project of its own.

All this has to wait until after my surgery on Thursday. And even though it is minor surgery (I'll be home the same day), it's the sort of thing that helps change focus from small to big.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hospital Depot

No big surprise. The surgeon I met with yesterday was dismissive about my idea to repair my own hernia. He did make one good point, though: unless I get a really really sharp knife, it's going to hurt and bleed, a lot. "The Internet," he then said with some derision, "has made an expert out of everyone."

I told him that in the future we will have a big store called Hospital Depot where you will go to do your own procedures, watch videos, rent surgical equipment. Brain surgery would be on aisle 1, broken bones on aisle 2, etc. Doctors will be roaming the floors in orange vests, asking if you need help, always with that far-away and sad look, eager to tell you about their former practice and the time when they had their own practice.

"The human body is complicated," he interrupted me with a fairly patronizing tone, "but please feel free to do this yourself. I will be curious to take a look after you are finished."

After more posturing and bargining, he finally agreed to a reasonable price and I gave him the OK to start work. He promises that the job will be finished in one day. But he can't actually guarantee the work. In fact, I might actually feel worse after the surgery.

Oh well, I was not keen on cutting myself open, anyway.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Surgery for Under $100

I don't want to sound preachy, but if you want to know what's wrong with health care in this country, just look in the mirror. Take hernia surgery, for example. Later today I'm seeing a surgeon (contractor) for an evaluation and estimate, but who knows what he will charge (have you seen the cars they drive?), and then who knows how much my insurance might pay (screw them, anyway).

Then it hit me--this is really my problem, right? Why not just do the surgery myself and save some money and provide a good example for my fellow human beings? Years ago you had to go to medical school to learn this stuff, but now everything is on YouTube (free), complete with diagrams and instructions. I figure the whole thing will cost about $100, depending on the anesthetic. I'll need:

Razor blade knife (I've already got one but what the heck)
Bandages (big)
Needle nose pliers (I've got 2, need 2 more)
Small staples for my staple gun
Sewing needle and thread (dissolving)
Dry wall joiner mesh
Utility sponge (in case I bleed a little)
Alcohol (disinfectant)
Alcohol (anesthetic)

Sure, I can't do it alone: I'll need Cheryl to hold onto the pliers and work the sponge. And even though this video makes it look easy, I've learned to always plan ahead for the unexpected.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Contractor With a Soul

Something happened today to shake my beliefs to the core. Everyone has a moment like this--when an inconvenient truth spoils a lifetime of experience and a comfortable belief system, a moment that forces you to admit a profound error and character flaw, when you must finally say I was wrong.

Here's what happened: today my contractor showed up on time, finished ahead of schedule, did a good job, left the area as clean he found it (maybe cleaner), and did not exceed his estimate.

OK. Here goes: Sorry. I was wrong. Some contractors are well worth the money.

There, I said it. My life is changed forever.

And though I believe (if only to protect my own ego) that I possibly could have done a better job (given 3 or 4 weeks to work on it), he refinished this tub completely in just a few hours. Amazing.

He was prepared to work straight through and skip lunch but we convinced him to come downstairs and have a sandwich with us--a really nice guy. Of course, Willow fell in love with him. She's a sucker for anyone who works hard for reasonable wages and who will not question her authority. I'll never hear the end of it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Picking my Battles Carefully

...and then I woke up. I'm just hoping it was all a dream.

In the meantime, my stained-glass project has taken a back burner to more pressing concerns. Over the weekend the faucet on our clawfoot bathtub finally rusted out--a screw mechanism split and the handle froze open, with cold water rushing into the tub. They don't sell these types of faucets at Home Depot or Lowes but I did find a nice one online, and you can install these in a few minutes.

The real issue is our old tub. It has been resurfaced before (poorly) and the new finish is peeling away here and there with rusty spots. Really ugly. So right now is a good time for me to fix it--so that we have a shiny tub to go with our shiny new faucet. Only right now I am waiting to get a hernia fixed, so I feel rotten all the time. I was tempted to say "get my hernia fixed," but it is not my hernia. Anything that keeps me from doing my projects is my enemy. I see a surgeon Tuesday and hope to soon have this all behind me.

For a day or two I was tempted to make this personal and refinish the bathtub if only to prove that my body can't slow me down. You have to draw a line in the sand, right? But refinishing a bathtub is not an easy or pleasant project (requires nasty chemicals, etc.). So I will be postponing my showdown to a later date and a future illness. I still can do it, right?

However, on Saturday (and I'm not sure I can write this without crying) a contractor will be coming to refinish the tub.