Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for the ‘Life As I Know It’ Category

Life in the age of Coronavirus. News addicts like me are dangerously close to overdose. Entities of every stripe are rejiggering their operational models. And each will publish a press release that includes the phrase: …out of an abundance of caution…

To me, the phrase suggests that “we don’t really need to be this cautious, but we are anyway because we deeply care about you, our customers, clients, employees, etc.” They could, of course, truthify the wording to read: …our stakeholders (or, more specifically, shareholders). “An abundance of caution” seems disingenuous to me.

The current reality is proving, though, that we really do need to be this cautious.

About ten years ago, I wrote an essay about a bacterium called MRSA. It was widely appreciated at the time, and seems to be holding its water still today – particularly the recommendations for prevention. MRSA is not coronavirus; think of the main text, below, as the alarmist attention-getting part and the rest as the currently-useful prevention part.

So now, with an abundance of snark, I would like to re-publish                      A Moron’s Guide to MRSA (only slightly edited from the original).

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A Moron’s Guide to MRSA

Written by an actual moron: Fred Marx

November 2009

Yesterday I was happy-go-lucky, free as a bird, blissfully ignorant. Today I live in fear of a danger that surrounds me: MRSA. I know about deer ticks, lunatics and politics (a redundancy, I know), but I’ve never heard of MRSA. And to be honest, I wish I hadn’t.

MRSA (pronounced: MER-suh) is an acronym for a long medical name that simple folk like me can’t say. But for those of you who want to try, good luck: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. If you could say that, you probably don’t need to be reading this. Have a nice day. Drive home safely. But if you’re more comfortable with MER-suh, gather ‘round the campfire, ‘cuz I’ve got a story that’ll scare the heebie-jeebies outta ya.

MRSA is a kind of bacteria. As you already know, bacteria are bad. They can live on your skin! Maybe a gazillion bacteria live on your skin, you mangy dog. Didn’t anyone teach you about hygiene? Years ago, I heard the late radio newsguy Paul Harvey do one of his infamous Rest of the Story essays. In this one, he described in horrid detail the features of a black-and-white B-movie monster. The rest of the story is that this monster is actually a microscopic critter living on YOUR EYELASH. And you’ve got them all over you. Right now! Kinda makes you want to scratch all over. But don’t do that. I’ll tell you why.

MRSA – the bacteria monsters that live on your skin – are pretty innocent little creatures until they spot a cut or a deep scratch. Seeing their big chance at stardom, they pounce into your innards and find their way to parts of you that you really care about and begin to grow into really big creatures. I don’t even want to tell you what these things do inside you (mostly because I don’t really want to know, myself). But I’ve been told by smart people that it can be deadly bad. Or maybe your MRSA will be lazy and settle for living in that paper cut, and then grow into a big boil and then all the neighborhood children will look at it and say “ewww.” And they won’t be laughing as they run away.

The creepy part is that you can wash the MRSA bacteria off your skin with soap and hot water, but they come back. They could be on almost everything you touch: bedposts, broomsticks, steering wheels, door knobs, desktops and even (gasp!) food packages. They are on the skin of almost everyone you touch: your spouse and kids, your clients and customers, your brother Tom, and your Auntie Millie (Well, you already knew Millie had problems).

So we’ve established that you can’t avoid MRSA. The bacteria are practically everywhere. And we’ve established that they’re icky but harmless if they just live on your skin even though they’re not paying you rent.

You’re probably asking yourself right now, “Can this story get any grosser?” Yes, it can.  You can get a MRSA infection by using the same baseball bat used by an infected teammate. Or sitting on the locker room bench where the infection has been unwittingly left by a previous sitter. Or by sharing a shaving razor, or a comb. Or a toilet seat.  Ewww.

Or how about this for ghastly? You go to the doctor’s office or hospital to get well. But these places are full of sick people. You could croak just visiting a nursing home.

It should be quite obvious by now that there are only two options available: 1) you can retire to a cave with plenty of food and 500 channels of satellite TV and live the rest of your days in isolation; or, 2) you can adopt the best practices of healthcare professionals the world over who are as obsessed as you are about staying alive.

What are these best practices? Spend as much time as possible in a hot, soapy shower.  When you’ve been reduced to a prune, dry off, eat a meal, watch an episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe (Mondays, Discovery), and return to the hot, soapy shower.  Repeat.

No, really. Here’s what you should do to avoid becoming a hermit, becoming a shower-Dirty Jobs zombie, or becoming the victim of a horrible MRSA infection:

  • WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY AND OFTEN. This is the single most effective way to avoid getting or giving your MRSA monsters a chance at havoc. Use hot water, antibacterial soap, and don’t stop washing until you’ve completed two verses of “Happy Birthday To You.”
  • If soap and water are not immediately available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel (I prefer the apple-scented variety), and scrub, scrub, scrub.
  • If you’re in the presence of someone known to have a MRSA infection, avoid direct contact. MRSA is highly contagious, remember?
  • If you have a diagnosed MRSA infection on your skin, cover it with a bandage. (Duh! Who wants to get creeped out looking at your pus-filled blisters?)

That seems like a lot. But of course, there’s more. MRSA can live on non-metallic damp or wet surfaces for up to forty-eight hours. And what might those surfaces be? Well, how about the kitchen counter for starters? Maybe the bathroom has a few damp surfaces? The baby’s toys or Jack’s jock strap or Missy’s tutu. The office is generally safe…until people arrive and start touching things.

The point is that where you have control, clean every touchable surface with a disinfectant. Where you don’t have control, see first bullet above.

MRSA is no joke. It can be debilitating to its victims, dangerous to others, and potentially deadly to anyone whose immune system is already compromised by another illness or who is taking antibiotics to treat an illness. You can live life in fear of MRSA, or you can respect it, and take the steps necessary to prevent it.

by Fred Marx

Before I retired, there wasn’t time enough to add something to my life, even if that something was important and I ached to do it. When I retired and moved to Colorado, my activity level did not change as expected and I could not squeeze  anything new into life.

Well, it must be something important — whatever it is — because I received the ultimate notification just recently: ‘You have heart disease and it could kill you. But it won’t, this time. You’ll live a long and healthy life and you’ll get an inarguable second chance to do this thing for once and for all.’

‘Voice-Of-God’ notifications are rare, I think. Too often you and I have seen them used to give legitimacy to a project wanting to be done by the receiver. I don’t know how God uses his voice. So let’s just say that if such a thing were to happen to me, I’d vet it six ways from Sunday and still come out on the doubting side.

My special project is writing a book.

Let the doubting begin.

Who cares!? Everyone I know wants to write a book. I don’t even know yet what the darn thing is about. Yet I cannot stop thinking about it. I must sound like the boy who cried “fire” in a crowded theater so often that no one believed him when one actually occurred. Can’t blame anyone for not believing. Still, the book burns in me.

A confluence of factors brought me here. First, I’ve been telling doctors for decades that there is something wrong with my heart. No one listened until early this year. My new doc heard something I said, ran a test, connected the dots and announced: “Heart Disease.” This was later confirmed by CT scans which impressively showed calcium blockages in three of the major arteries servicing my heart.

Things began to happen fast. A long trip to a major medical center; laparoscopic surgery to determine the adequacy of stents (nope. Gotta be vein grafts; three of them). Two days later, I was on the schedule and on the table. My sternum was zipped open and the surgeon bypassed my clogged arteries with replacements from other parts of my own body. Let the recovery begin.

Of course, any confluence has at least two parts. My ‘part 2’ actually began when I was just 2½ years old; the first time I realized what life on this planet meant to me. I was a gifted communicator. Through the years, I wrote, spoke, broadcast, produced, interviewed, researched, contextualized all manner of material for the good of my fellow man. It was all well accepted by my peers and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow when I’d be able to do it all over again.

Except for that elusive book.

Maybe it’s the enormity of the task. Research, drafts, editors, congruity. Maybe it’s the success rate of books on the shelf. How many books are written only to be ignored at the library or bookstore? So much work. Failure cannot be an option. Success cannot be guaranteed.

Am I even a good writer? Yes. I believe so. Absolutely. But then I am not the reader of my own material, am I? You be the judge. Sunlight Blog and ElderBlog are readily available for inspection. Countless additional materials rest in my own files and in the files of companies for which they were created.

The need to write remains so loudly pronounced that all the if’s are swept off the table. You don’t write because you want to; you write because you have to.

And that brings us back to this moment in time. It’s not a deciding moment; I rather think that the decision has been made for me already. If it’s a book that’s useful to others, I’m good with that. If it’s fiction, well, I’ve always written reality; fiction could be fun and interesting to me.

Whatever it is, it’s time for me to get on with the physical healing of my body. I hear that book tours are murder.

by Fred Marx

If this were another screed about new technology, it would be titled “Why I Hate My Fancy-Schmantzy New Smartphone.” Or, “Sliced Bread Has Fewer Crumbs Than Windows 10.” This is not about that.

This is about the love/hate relationship I have with tech that’s keeping me alive and fully functional. Overly dramatic? Not to me.

I think of myself as healthy; maybe even healthier than most people my age. I eat (mostly) good foods, get a reasonable amount of exercise, and more than enough fresh mountain air and sunshine. I have none of the health risk factors for anything.

Yet, I stop breathing about 52 times per hour while I’m sleeping. Yep … Obstructive Sleep Apnea. And that serves up the first of two examples of what I’m calling negative technology: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. You know it as CPAP.

If ever there was a perfect medical/mechanical concept, it is this one. If the airway closes during sleep, the CPAP machine rests quietly at your bedside and gently pushes some humidified air into the nose to keep the airway open. Simple! Just an innocuous machine, a 6ft hose and a little mask to cover your nose and mouth. But that’s where the problem begins.

Half of everyone for whom CPAP is prescribed — stop using it. Some people never even acquire or use the blessed thing (God only knows why). Others are claustrophobic about having a mask separating them from perfectly good room air. Others never find an effective and comfortable mask from among the myriad styles and sizes available. I’m in this last group.

It took months to find a mask that worked even moderately well. It took years to find the mask that actually works for me now. Huzzah! Or maybe not so much.

Just try to sleep in a position other than flat on your back. Wanna roll over? You have to half-wake up, drag the hose to wherever you need it, reposition the mask on your face and try to fall back to sleep. In my case, this ritual takes place several times a night. Need to take a little stroll down the hall at 2:30am? Take it all off, stroll, get back into bed, put it all back on, and try to fall back to sleep. Wanna cuddle with your honey? Fuggedaboutit. Can’t be done. Why? The answer is blowing in the wind. CPAP users well know the song.

In business, there’s something called ‘The cost/value proposition.’ It applies to everything, really. If I put out this amount of energy, I get that benefit back. If I invest in this enterprise, I am likely to receive that return-on-investment in three years. If I spend this amount of money at the store, I get that number of Snickers® bars.

In the Obstructive Sleep Apnea business, the cost/value proposition is easy: use it and you don’t die.

The mask that works for me is not really a mask at all. Rather, it looks and functions like a nasal canula … the kind of contraption you see strapped to hospital patients’ faces to give them oxygen. It’s perfect for me. Except that it isn’t.

My canula requires a seal in order to deliver the goods. For months, the skin at the tip of my nose objected to the overnight attachment of this foreign invader; objected to the point of developing blisters and scabs. Ewww. It was during this period that I began working for a new employer. (Yes, I know I’m retired. But I’m doing a very bad job of it.) Anyway, the scab on the tip of my nose was so evident that I had to explain to the boss that I am not, in fact, snorting cocaine. Embarrassing. For all I know, cocaine would be better.

So, that’s the cost part. The benefit part is that I wake up in the morning without feeling like I’ve had 52 heart attacks. Honestly, it hurts. And the hurt stays with you all day.

* * *

A million years ago, I spent lots of time on flight lines, the areas of an airport where (usually military) aircraft are parked and serviced. Can you guess how many decibels of sound are generated by a fighter jet ramping up its engines? That’s right, a gazillion decibels. Hearing protection? Not me.

My job was to visually document certain flight operations and practices. For this, I shouldered a 40lb television camera with a 9lb telephoto lens all tethered to a 15lb battery belt and a nice set of headphones. Headphones? Don’t they amplify sound? Why, yes they do. If the engines generated a gazillion decibels, my headphones generated five gazillion. It goes with the job. Hearing damage? Oh yeah. Just ask my wife.

I didn’t actually know I was impaired until years later when someone who’d seen my profile asked, “Hey Fred, how’s your hearing?” “Huh?”

Wikipedia tells me that the first hearing aids were developed in the 1600’s. They were called Ear Trumpets EarTrumpet.jpgand they looked weird and nobody liked using them – so they didn’t. Two hundred years later,bluto.jpg electronic hearing aids were invented, but you had to hire a big burly guy to carry them around for you. Nobody liked the smell of burly guys, so nobody used the hearing aids. (Note: deodorant hadn’t been invented yet.)

Yet another two hundred years later, I was introduced to my first hearing aids. By then, technology had improved the devices and shrunk them to a size that you could hang behind your ears. But, if, like me, you wore glasses, the parts that hung the glasses on your ears rubbed against the hearing aids causing horror-movie sound effects all day long. I didn’t much care for that, so I stopped using the hearing aids. And I haven’t watched a horror movie since.

Just this week, I got the latest greatest technologically zip-a-dee-doo-dah digital hearing aids by ReSound. They were crafted specifically from moldings taken of my ear canals. They are a fraction of the size of the old devices. ThReSound Hearing Aid.jpgey have hidden microphones that face forward (unlike the last pair). They have some noise cancellation. They have push-button settings for female voices, male voices, and rock ‘n roll. Seriously! I can raise and lower the volume in either or both ears, take phone calls via Bluetooth, and they make my eggs-over-easy. Okay, not really that last part.

Sounds great, huh? (Pun intended.) The value in the cost/value proposition seems pretty obvious: I get all these benefits and I can hear better. The cost part of the proposition is that they are not completely invisible, and they are slightly uncomfortable. Maybe I’ll get used to them. Maybe I won’t.

I’m expecting a delivery from FedEx any day now. The package will contain accessories: a wireless microphone my wife can clip to her blouse so I can clearly hear every golden syllable she speaks; and an actual real live remote with which I can control ambient sound, the directionality of the mics, and the size of the bubbles my CPAP machine blows to amuse the cats at night. bubbles.jpg Okay, not really that last part.

(Personal note: please don’t tell my wife about the FedEx package. If she ever finds out about the mic, she’ll make me wear the hearing aids. Thank you.)

There are historical markers in my life just are there are in yours. Mine include:

  • The Kennedy Assassination — I was in 6th Grade French class when the news was announced over the loudspeaker. My then-crush, Dionne, was sobbing in the next row. That’s how I knew it was important.
  • Watergate — the beginning of my obsession with politics.
  • Exxon Valdez — the spoiling of the waters in my precious Alaska. I took it personally. Still do.
  • 9-11 — the hotel staff was huddled around the lobby TV. I glanced at the screen on the way out the door. A plane hit the WTC. My first impression: “It’s New York. We’re tough. We’ll work it out.”

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t chosen to write about the deeper meanings for each of these events before. Even more surprised am I that 30 years have passed and I’ve never written about the Shuttle Challenger disaster.

I was, at that time, the Marketing and Programming Manager for the big cable system in Anchorage. I was beset with union votes, expansion woes, Mike Tyson fights, and the press queries that go with all of these.

On this morning thirty years ago, the TV was on in the bedroom as I got dressed for that day’s work. The nascent CNN was covering all of NASA’s launches and I watched them all because I like the adventurous aspects of science, space and space travel. A minute after launch, when the words, “Go at throttle up” were spoken, I knew what would happen.

What did happen, of course, was instantly recognizable as anomalous, to say the least. It was visually horrifying.

And I stood there and watched, and said to myself: “It’s going to be a really bad day.”

I was instantly ashamed of myself.

Seven lives had been snuffed out. I wasn’t thinking about their loved ones. I was thinking about the press calls I would be fielding throughout that day.

If I could paint this damning story in a positive light, it would be to say that I learned, in that moment, to think outside of myself. Sure, I’m important. But I am not alone.

ChallengerCrew

 

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I’ve written about animals before, but never one like Angel. She’s a Golden LabTheraHund who hails from northern Germany and has traveled close to twenty thousand miles since July. Destination: Alaska. What makes Angel unique is that she writes a blog – in English and German – using multi-syllabic words! Show me another dog with that kind of talent.

Angel and her people rolled their tired tires into Anchorage today, a place forever dear to my heart as I spent ten of the best years of my life there. One of the many things that Rondy13Pinmakes Alaska special is an annual fur-trading event which long-ago developed into a major 10-day-long festival called “The Fur Rendezvous“. This year’s edition starts next Friday and features the Running Of The Reindeer (think: Pamplona), a carnival, Snowshoe Softball, the Grand Prix Auto Race, dog weight pull, fireworks, the Frostbite Footrace, and a Grand Parade. I sound like a commercial, but everything about “Rondy” is fun, and families have been enjoying it for seventy-seven years.

As cool as Rondy is, it’s not the reason Angel’s in Anchorage. As cool as Rondy is, it’s just the warm-up for the really big event: Alaska’s world-famous “Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race“.

One of Angel’s people has – for the longest time – wanted to experience the IditarodIdita13Patch close-up. “The Last Great Race” pits dog teams and their mushers against rugged terrain, extreme weather, and distance: a thousand miles! Angel’s person (who happens to be my sister-in-law) has volunteered for several important positions, and while she’ll be working very hard, she’ll know that she’s participating in a historic event.

AngelPicThat’s what brings media from around the world to Alaska for the race. But Angel has already discovered that all of the media are human. So she’s busy sniffing out a volunteer position for herself as the canine reporter for this year’s Iditarod. You’ll find her posts on the blog “Travels With Angel“. And if you’re in Anchorage, look for the white pickup with Angel’s picture on the windows. She won’t be driving, but will be somewhere nearby.

No year exists by itself. My 2012 began sixty years ago and built up to now. About the same for you? Sure.

North Carolina was a perfectly lovely place. But with apologies to my friends there, it just wasn’t home. When it became possible for me to exit, I did. And by the time I did, my network of personal and business relationships had been considerably weakened back in Minneapolis. So I wound up in North Dakota: a strange place to me, populated with people whose dominant culture was different than I had yet to face. This would take some getting used to.

When I was younger, a situation like this would have been an adventure and my approach would have been with energy and excitement. Not so this time. I was broke, broken and depressed. I wanted to find work, and spend the rest of my day alone. I did nothing to integrate myself with the people here.

I had last seen Bruce when he was just four. Now he’s six-foot-three, married to Liza and has a bunch of great children. They took me into their home without condition, fed me and made me part of their family. I had the shirt on my back, a paid-for car and, within a couple of weeks, a job. Things were trending positive. Still, I resisted.

There was a decision to make: would I spend my life wallowing in self-pity, wanting what I couldn’t have, or would I find myself and find a way to thrive and grow in this new place? Things got worse in my head before they got better.

I didn’t make the big decision; I made a little one. I decided to buy new carpet, and after several weekends of looking, I found it and brought it home. Before laying it down, I thought, “Well, it would be best if I painted the walls first. So I prepared the walls, thought about colors, and painted the room: sunshine yellow for the part of the day I’d be active; sky blue for the part of the day I’d be asleep. Face one way and it’s daytime. Face the other way and it’s night – all in one 8 x 12 room. “Genius,” I thought. And then I put down the underlayment and carpeting.

Thusly proud, I thought about maximizing the space. The twin bed I’d purchased took up so much floor space and made the room so small. I decided to elevate the bed, and not to common bunkbed height, but high enough that I could stand and walk comfortably beneath it. The ceiling is 12 feet high, so the mattress surface would be at 8 feet. I designed and built the structure beneath the mattress with one 4″x4″ post occupying floor space and the rest of the structure secured to the wall studs. I stained the wood my favorite shade of oak. No standard bunk ladder reaches that high, so I built my own. It’s perfect, and the elevated bed is perfect. It doesn’t squeak or creak and I feel perfectly comfortable and safe sleeping up there. “Genius,” I thought.

I spent a few weekends looking for just the right kind of lighting for both the ceiling and under the bed, and I am using daylight CFL bulbs to reduce eye strain. I found an oak wardrobe kit with hanging and shelf space. Costco had a pair of 2’x4′ maps: one of the world and one of the U.S.  They are mounted side-by-side on one of the yellow walls both as a reference and as a reminder that I live in a larger world than my little room represents. There’s a corkboard on which I tack the artwork the kids draw for me. “Genius,” I thought.

My computer, monitor and printer all sat atop their respective boxes along one of the day walls. That would no longer do. I designed and built a 6 foot long, two-tier shelf on which these components are now arranged. And there’s plenty of space left to use for other things. My next projects are a shallow 4-foot-wide dresser (oak, of course), and a reclining swivel glider-rocker with an ottoman, all made of oak and with supportive and comfy cushions. And I will build these things, too. Then this room will be complete.

So, what, exactly, is the genius of what’s been done here? Well, I stretched myself. Building stuff like this is not something I’ve ever done before; it’s not in my skillset. I had to research the proper angle of the ladder, for example; and the distance the steps should be apart, and how to notch the steps into the sides for added weight-bearing. I had to calculate the exact dimensions of the two-tiered shelf to fit into the space available. In other words, I had to challenge myself to do something new. I had to stretch beyond my usual mindset and abilities.

There’s another aspect to my genius, though. Without thinking about it, I was investing myself into my living space – thereby creating a place that I wanted to be; creating a home of my own.

If there are any IQ digits for me to think with, I take no credit. I didn’t give them to me. I’ll take credit only for using what I have as, I believe, the Giver would have it.

I have long thought that I’d regret turning 60. What actually happened was a surprise: I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. For all of my life, I’ve been striving: trying to achieve this; trying to earn that; working for tomorrow. On my birthday, it occurred to me that I no longer cared as much about tomorrow. Today provides sufficient challenges. I’m not living today as if it’ll be my last; I’m just living it to the best of my ability. And I’m not reaching beyond what’s available to me today. Understanding this, I felt relief.

I’ve also made an effort to become more of a joiner. I accept invitations now, and I make some, too. I go places and do things that don’t fit my usual patterns. And whereas I used to do these things with low-level dread, it usually turns out just fine. Enjoyable, even. I’m allowing roots to go down; friendships to form.

Okay. That’s the ethereal stuff. Here’s the other stuff.

I wrote about the much-anticipated thrill of Mike Oldfield’s live contribution to the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. I could not have anticipated that an equal thrill awaited within the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics.

Coldplay, my second-favorite musicians (after Oldfield) were invited to play a set at the big stadium. I thought, “Well that’s terrific; all the pomp and circumstance will get done and then Coldplay will entertain everyone with a big concert.” Wrong. What actually happened is that Coldplay came on and did a few of their big hits. These served as background for physically-challenged performers to do amazing things. It was all quite wonderful to watch.

In an ordinary concert, Coldplay does a song called, “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face.” While the title seems benign, the song rocks! It may be among the hardest songs for a drummer to play. When “God Put A Smile…” came up during the Paralympics set, there were two drummers on stage: Will Champion, Coldplay’s drummer, and Mat Fraser, born a thalidomide baby without arms. Well, Mat grew up to become a man, a writer, an actor and a drummer who performed in the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin was amazed by Mat’s work. So he invited him to play the toughest song in their repertoire: “God Put A Smile …”. Stunning! Fraser played the song beat-for-beat as aggressively as Champion, and he smiled throughout. It wasn’t a smile that said, “Hey, look at me; I’m playing with Coldplay.” It was a smile that said, “I’m good enough to play with Coldplay.” He was. And the 7.7 million people watching him will never forget it.

That was a Sunday. The next day, it was back to work. Everything I do depends on my car. It’s just a Dodge Neon that wasn’t built for punishment. Yet, I commute to work and back 100 miles each day. And I run that number of miles daily, on average, out in the boonies with dirt-, gravel- and scoria-covered roads. I arrived here in February with 70,000 miles on the odometer. We’re now just shy of 120,000. The car gets serviced regularly, and new tires were put on in October. My confidence in the car has been growing of late; it just keeps doing a good job for me.

We face a greater hazard here than most other places. With all the construction and trucks moving dirt and rock, some of it lands on the roads. Or, worse, gets kicked up into your windshield. You can’t call yourself a Montanan or North Dakotan if your windshield hasn’t been assaulted by rocks. I’ve been fortunate so far; only six dings in the glass. I get them fixed immediately and they haven’t spidered into long cracks. It’s only a matter of time, though, and I’ll have to replace the whole thing. It’s the cost of doing business.

This next story says my bad. It’s your good if you learn from my experience. With my kind of work, it’s best to have all of my computer files with me on a flash drive – available whenever and wherever I might be. I think of this small device also as a backup. My flash drive has reliably done the job since February. Then, one day, it didn’t. I stuck it in the office PC, and the PC didn’t “recognize” it. I called our IT guy who tried a few things to no avail. We stuck it into a few other computers. No recognition. My skin was becoming clammy.

The IT guy found a company near Denver that does crash recovery, talked with them by phone, and then recommended it to me. I hotfooted it to FedEx for next day air ($36). It was received and preliminarily tested on Tuesday. Failure. ($220). They offered to run my flash drive through their whiz-bang high-end machine for another $500. It was a no-brainer … I needed those files. It was Wednesday. The next day, I got an e-mail that said the process had been successful. And on Friday, they sent me a link from which I could download my files (which took all morning to do).

Meanwhile, I tried to find a way to back up my backup in the cloud. And I researched and bought a 64G USB 3.0 tank of a flash drive; dust, shock and waterproof to 20 meters. It’s a Corsair Survivor. I’m still trying to find a way to sync it to the cloud. If you have any suggestions …

The total price for my (duh!) lesson was $820, plus lost time working without my files. It’ll drive a man to drink.

I’ve written before of my fondness for things flavored with lime. I have discovered BudLight Lime-a-Rita’s. It doesn’t taste like BudLight with a squirt of lime. It does taste exactly like a top-shelf Margarita and it packs an 8% wallop to boot. They come in a 12-pack of little 8 ounce cans and man, these things are good!

The new year brings a few changes, all of which will be broadcast to my mailing list. I have a new cell phone number, a website (www.fredmarx.com) to host this blog, and a new e-mail address.

One more story from 2012 before heading toward the New Year’s Eve confetti. On Saturday, November 13, we had our first snowstorm. It rained the night before, then froze, then snowed. I spent the better part of Sunday shoveling the driveway; something I actually enjoy doing.

I figured the plows would have had plenty of time to do their thing on the major roadways by Monday morning, but I was wrong. They’d taken only one pass and the major road heading north from Sidney was mostly snow-packed.

I headed out at 6am, as usual. It was dark and the road was snarky, so the 65mph speed limit was ignored in favor of a safer 40mph. There was, thankfully, very little traffic. About 5 miles north of town, there was just one oncoming car a quarter mile away, and another a mile behind that.

Then, one of my drive wheels must have found a patch of dry roadway – and I started spinning. Fast. It had to be at least three clockwise rotations; I couldn’t count. There wasn’t time for my heart to jump to my throat. There was only time to reflexively turn into the spin. The first car miraculously passed me without contact.

I came to a stop facing north in the southbound lane. The second car couldn’t have stopped if it tried. My car was stalled. I tried three times to restart it. It cranked but didn’t catch. I turned off the headlights and radio and tried again. It caught, I turned on the headlights, put the car into gear and slowly crawled back into the northbound lane – getting there just as the second car went past.

I continued on to the office kind of surprised by how calm I was.

Later in the day, I sat down and purposefully thought about it. I started spinning. I turned into the spin fully expecting a collision but not having one, and I didn’t land in a ditch. I then realized that I had said two words right about then: “Holy GOD!”

For all the spinning I’ve lived through this year, at least my head is still screwed on tight.

You know how a song gets stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of it? I’ve had thoughts banging around in there causing synaptic overdrive: “I’m bad.” “I’m worthless.” “I’m a failure.” I had been programmed. I could no sooner dismiss, forget or replace these thoughts than I could convince myself that “Mary had a little armadillo.”

I was taught that any outward display of emotion was an annoyance to others and was to be avoided at all costs. I was taught that boys don’t cry.

Yet, I did have value, somehow, and I knew it. And when it came time for me to make my way in the world, I needed to fight through the fears, work longer and harder, be better than everyone else.

My God-given value was communications, a gift used with great success in the radio and television industries. These were working environments tailor-made for me, and I thrived in them. When regulations changed in the 1980’s, however, the environments changed too, and I made the decision to leave; a decision both correct in its time and haunting to this day. What might I have become had I stayed?

I have since adapted my communicative skills to other industries and self-enterprises with varying degrees of achievement – thankfully more positive than not. Through it all, I wrestled with my embedded problems and worked harder to succeed despite them.

As long as I continue to draw breath, I will have to toil with problems — as do we all — whether embedded or occasional. My experiences over the past decade offer a good case-in-point. After two downsizings, a recession and two-and-a-half years of caring for my parents in a place that wasn’t home and had fewer jobs than most other places, I was beat … financially, emotionally and physically. I had no capacity for conducting meaningful and important relationships. Every part of me felt awful. I was making poor decisions. I said hurtful things.

When I arrived here in the Oil Patch in February, I was good and broken. Scared. Disoriented. Weak. I honestly felt that this could be the end of me. I could choose to let that happen or I could seek help.

I sought help.

In the hands of an excellent counselor and with lots of contemplation, I learned to identify my problems; and there were more than a few. You might think that I then literally or symbolically walked away from them, but I did not – the programming runs too deep. At first, I angrily objected to the notion that I had to have these problems at all. I had done nothing to deserve them, after all.

Yet, here they are. I must deal with them. I’ve been taught to consider each problem as it arises, and to then put it in its place behind me as I drive my bus. Translation: my problems are no longer permitted to drive; only I can … my problems are merely passengers. Passengers are important, but they need to stay behind the white line while the bus is in motion.

It reminds me of the way I stopped smoking in 1984. After seventeen years of enjoying the act, (and the growing social-outlier status), I reached for another cigarette. But this time, my inner voice said: “I’m smarter than this. These things are gonna kill me. But I’m not going to quit. Instead, I declare that, as of now, I am an ex-smoker.” And for the next two years, every time the urge came to light up, that voice laughed and said: “Hey! … you’re an ex-smoker.” I haven’t picked one up since.

My bus has doors, and passengers move on and off. I have had to learn to hold on to things lightly. This is particularly hard for a person who’s lost just about everything (even problems are possessions in a weird way). But hold lightly I must. And if they don’t want to be held, I have to let them go. I’m still struggling with that. But if I want to drive forward, the passengers must take their seats or exit the bus, no matter how much I might want them to stay.

Today is my 60th birthday. Too bad it took me this long to learn how to drive.

Too bad.

God only knows how much time I have left. But I have control over how I spend it. So with halting steps at first, then with growing confidence, I will choose to live my life Happy.

Giving and Dependability: these are my most-closely-held personal values. My personal mission statement remains unchanged: ‘I will have a positive impact on the lives of everyone I touch.’ Anything that violates these principles or that pokes at one of my embedded issues is unwelcome. Happy will always be in front of me.

I will express my emotions because they have merit. And I will temper their expression with maturity and love.

I’ve already jumped out of a perfectly good airplane (3 times!), so maybe this year I will do something even sillier … like learn how to dance.

My forecast for the coming year is a good one – because I will continually steer toward Happy. I’ll start right now:

Happy Birthday to Me !

God, give me style and give me grace.

God, put a smile upon my face.

  –  Coldplay, ©2003

I haven’t written in a while and your questions are piling up. Here are the answers.

Spiders and snakes. I see them so frequently that they greet me by name. The nightmares stopped about a month ago.

The Green Bay Packers, because someone told me Minnesota doesn’t have a team anymore.

She’s doing well … better than I am, really.

Big Sky plates. It’s one of two designs that don’t cost extra. Montana has 235 license plates. If they got creative, they’d have more.

A nice Greek restaurant with white cotton table cloths. But I’d settle for a Taco Bell.

“4GFred” because I was first in my company to convert. I’m not getting more calls from friends, though. A puzzle.

102,477. My mechanic thinks we can squeeze another 50,000 out of it. I’m praying for another snowless winter.

Minimalistic. There’s not a lot you can put into an 8 X 10 space without the claustrophobia whooshing back.

Old underwear – that’s what I’m sending you for Christmas. Got to get rid of stuff. I’ll wash them first.

Oil Patch. I would’ve used denim, but oil is easier to find around here. Nobody will notice.

Two more sessions. After that, I’ll have to figure it out on my own.

Nodding Donkeys. But some people call them Rockinghorse Pumps or Sucker Rod Pumps, Thirsty Birds or Popping Johnny’s. (Get your mind out of the gutter!)

Jeremy was born in Indianapolis, home of the famous Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. By the time his first last-Sunday-in-May rolled around, I was at Tatalina Air Force Station deep in central Alaska. The race was available to me only by radio there. I called Jeremy’s Mom and asked that she turn on the TV or radio near him so we could experience it together.

This was the beginning of a near-tradition. In the years when I was home, we’d sit on the couch, eat popcorn, and watch. When I wasn’t, we shared a thought-connection that was almost as good.

My father and I had little in the way of common musical interest. This is not the case with my son and I. We have an intense appreciation for the music of England’s Mike Oldfield, a contemporary master whose Tubular Bells became the first icon of art rock back in the early 1970’s. Twenty-five albums later, he’s still cranking them out without compromise to commercialism.

A couple days ago, I learned that Oldfield might be in some way involved with the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony and I alerted Jeremy to it. Resourceful guy that he is, he sent me a link to a ‘live stream’ this afternoon, and there it was in all its spectacle and glory. What a wonderful production.

And then the moment came. Jeremy e-mailed: Mike Oldfield!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I fired back: Here we go!

It began with the instantly-recognizable phrases of Tubular Bells and evolved into several of Oldfield’s other works. He was there, playing ‘live.’ And it wasn’t just a token nod to a noteworthy British artist; Mike’s segment of the Opening Ceremony lasted a full eleven minutes! Meanwhile, on the stadium floor, good battled evil in a tribute to British children’s literature perfectly complemented by Oldfield’s score.

London’s Opening Ceremony was thrilling from beginning to end and it’s impossible to single out a memorable moment among so many. But for Jeremy and me, Mike Oldfield’s appearance transcended the event and became our best moment ever; a shared passion, a confirmation of the validity of our eclectic musical interest. And though we were twelve hundred miles apart, today, it was as if we were sitting together on the couch, eating popcorn and enjoying a father-son experience as only we can.

He pulled the gleaming new Silverado into the gravel parking lot and rolled to a stop near us. Gary said to me, “This guy lost his wife in an accident last month at Four Mile Corner.” He then walked over to the driver’s side and extended his iron-strong hand.

The guy might have been sixty, hadn’t had a haircut in a while, was wearing a plaid shirt and the obligatory ball cap. Maybe a farmer or a rancher, his face had seen its share of weather. His lenses tinted dark in the morning sun. He reached into a shirt pocket and joined Gary in a cigarette. From the other pocket, he drew some photographs.

“This is what hit us,” he said. “He t-boned us so hard, it knocked the fifth-wheel right out of the bed of the pickup. The airbags didn’t inflate. Her shoulder belt held so tight that it broke some ribs. EMS got three calls from the scene, but didn’t send a paramedic until a fireman called; I had to cut her out. They took us to the hospital. She had a punctured lung. She went into cardiac arrest three times. They airlifted us to Minot.”

Upwards of twenty-thousand trucks move through Williston’s Four Mile Corner every day. Add to that the cars and pickups and you have a real mess. They put traffic lights there a couple of months back, and a truck destroyed the intersection’s control box just a week later. It’s been flashing yellows and reds ever since. Testosterone-fueled decision-making yields a harrowing experience for all. I could just hear the truck driver tell the cops, “I thought I could make it.”

I was getting my car fixed at Gary’s shop. It’s a mammoth-sized garage that he’s run by himself for generations. Tools of all kinds and ages are strewn about and Gary knows the location of each one. Johnny Cash plays from the radio, and calendars with drawings of beautiful naked women hang high up on the walls. They date back to 1953.

The garage also serves as a gathering place. When I first came here on Wednesday, I learned that the price of admission was a case of beer for the community fridge. It was too early for beer, today, so I brought a dozen donuts fresh from the bakery. Coffee and donuts and assorted neighbors; the conversation ranged from the Oil Patch to the Vietnam War to rebuilding the church west of here. Somewhere in the middle of that, Gary started working on my car.

And now he handed the pictures back to the Silverado guy. “How are you doing?” Gary asked. “Well, I’m doin’ okay, I guess,” was the brave answer. “Don’t think I’ll buy another fifth-wheel, though. I’m headed for family in Minnesota. Maybe I’ll come back after summer.” And for just a moment, I thought Gary was going to hug him…but that’s not his way.

I may not have much in this life right now. What I do have is the ability to breathe and walk.

And I have a good mechanic.


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