Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quick thanks...

With no small bit of sincerity, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic...I'd like to pause and be thankful for another year of health and peace whilst living in a veritable paradise that so many are unable to conceive of.

It was year of transitions. From routine to none. From order to chaos. From resistance to acceptance. From fear to courage. From regret to hope. From loss to gain. Of course these are all cyclical...and purposefully vague, but illustrate a shift in mindset. I've continued to focus much of my energy inward, towards improving my general mode of operation and attitude. Unfortunately, that meant many of the people in my life did not receive as much energy from me as they might have come to expect, or needed. To them, I apologize for my selfishness and neglect, and make a promise to continue striving towards balance. For those that stuck with me, I cannot thank you enough for your patience. To those that could not, I understand why you had to go and I will miss you.

So much can happen in year, yet it goes by so quickly. I am looking forward to this next one holding just as many surprises.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Too late?

After a couple weeks of research, applications, job searches, talking to people that have done it, and reading blogs... it would appear that South Korea is among the top candidate for teaching English abroad. (I had previously hoped to get a job in Taiwan, but learned that the best jobs there require a 2 year teaching degree.) There are numerous jobs in South Korea at the private schools (or "Hagwons" as they are called) that will pay for your round trip airfare, as well as provide very decent housing for the duration of your 1 year contract. This is on top of an average starting pay of around 2,100,000 won a month (about 1850 USD) That may not sound like much, but considering there will be no rent to pay, no car payments, no insurance, etc... it would work out pretty well. Not to mention that the cost of living is lower there.

Unfortuantely it appears that I may be a bit late getting my applications in for this upcoming semester. Most positions begin in February and have already been filled. If I do not find a job in the next week or so, I may have to wait until September for the next mass hiring blitz. That would not be the end of the world. I would rather do that than sign a contract and wind up in a crappy job.

This is not to say that I cannot find one between now and then. There are jobs available every month... but they are less likely to be the most desirable ones with all the amenities that I mentioned above. Still hanging on and applying every day... but plans might change here in the next week or so.

Til then...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Time is short

This week I have been spending most of my time on the internet searching for and applying for positions teaching English as a second language to students in Korea. Why Korea? It seems that they offer the best wages and benefits. Most of the jobs in Korea will pay for your round-trip airfare, provide good living accommodations, and a good salary with a one-year contract. Some of the best jobs offer 5 weeks of paid vacation. Unfortunately time is very short. Many of the positions for the next semester have already been filled, as the sessions begin in early to mid-February. There are still some available, but because of the time it takes to properly process background checks, credentials, visas, etc... some of the recruiting companies have already told me that I am too late for most schools this upcoming semester in Korea.

I haven't given up yet. There are still new jobs posted everyday and I am applying to as many as I can. In the meantime I am gathering up documents that seem to be necessary now to most of the schools. This includes a full FBI background check, as well as a notarized copy of my college degree. Ummm, I haven't seen that in years! I had to send a snail mail application to my University along with $20 to get it re-printed. Where or how to get it notarized is another question entirely.

There are some jobs in Japan that start a bit later... but most do not pay for travel and living accommodations which can be very expensive there. Taiwan also pays well but most positions require a teaching degree which I, obviously, do not posses.

One of the most intriguing positions I have seen is in Georgia. Not the state... but rather the former Soviet Republic. Situated along the black sea, its Mediterranean climate is not too much different from that of Southern California. I would be paid the equivalent of about $275 US dollars a month. Wow! My current unemployment checks are $450 a week! I would live in a home with locals. Apparently one can live rather comfortably on about $100 a month there. The government would pay for my airfare. THis one I am the most apprehensive about.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ready to start. - Day 1.

Monday morning. For me, now... no different than any other morning. Yet I am compelled to start my normal routine, albeit a bit later than normal. Get up, shower, swallow 15 mg of adderall XR, and begin mentally planning my day. But instead of hopping in my car for the morning commute, I hop up on my bed and open my laptop.

For those of you just joining us, let me catch you up to speed.

For the last four years I have worked as a satellite engineer at a local technology company. It was a fantastic gig with generous benefits, perks and good pay. The company built a national network that is a modern marvel of technological perfection. It is rivaled only by its associated business plan's monumental failure. Eventually the shareholders demanded action, and the shutdown began. I was offered, along with others, an incentive to "voluntarily" resign. Given the information available to me at the time, accepting the offer seemed like the right play. After all, my options were 1) take this large amount of money and go... or 2) take your chances and stay. It is yet to be determined which of the two options turns out to be more lucrative. I chose #1.

This all happened in a very short period of time, during which I have not sought out new employment opportunities. I have decided instead to take a bit of time to see some parts of the world I've only heard and read about. The severance package will sustain me until late spring, so I am not being irresponsible by choosing this route. Rather, I feel I owe it to myself to get out and do some of these things now while I have nothing to hold me back.

Please feel free to offer suggestions and/or travel discounts that you might come across. I will be scouring the interwebz for the next few weeks, seeking out destinations and putting together itineraries. As of right now, I don't really have any restrictions other than a limited amount of cash. Time and distance are not really of any concern. The short list of possible destinations include: Thailand, Costa Rica, The Phillipines, Cambodia, Australia, the countries of southern Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and the Caribbean. I don't think there is anyway to hit all of these... but who knows.

My timeline is open ended. There are employment opportunities abroad that could allow me to extend my timetable. For instance, I could teach English as a second language in several of the aforementioned countries, and use that as a sort of home-base to visit some of the neighboring regions. This could be done for a semester in each of the regions mentioned. Thailand is a good home base to hop around Southeast Asia. Argentina for South America... etc.

It's all just an idea for now... but I plan on turning it into a reality as soon as possible. Deep breaths... here we go.

Friday, November 5, 2010

So here is something

My last day at work will be Friday, November 12. Confidentiality agreements restrict me from saying much more.

Here's to new things. Salainte!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Something to long for.

I know that I should go
But in spite of what I know
I am still compelled to stay here for awhile.

And if I fall apart
Around the remnants of my heart
I'll never say that it wasn't all worthwhile.

So I can take my life as is
Or I can be jealous of his
The one with you in it, that is
And the place that I long for.

And I confess it so sincere
I never meant to fill you with my fear.
As I tried to guide myself away from this.

And though I appear so self-involved
I took note of everything as it dissolved
And I will sing it back to you and reminisce

So was this all by my design?
Will they put me in the firing line?
And if offered would I decline
The things that I long for?

Don't look at me that way
I'm not some tired old cliché
It's taken me all this time to find out what I need

But while I hoped and dreamed
Leaving you alone and unredeemed
You picked up and carried on with stunning speed

So I'll look on and smile
And with every passing mile
I'll be with you all the while
Towards something you long for.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Time

And then one day you find 10 years have got behind you. And I guess I'll just begin again. You say we can still be friends. But now that I'm older my heart's colder. Mellow is the man who knows what he's been missing. There is no reconciliation that will put me in my place. Tides that I tried to swim against have brought me down upon my knees. The feelings I could not release became a bitter part of me. Looking back through time you know it's clear that I've been blind. Maybe we've outgrown all the things that we once loved. Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts. Maybe I don't really wanna know how your garden grows. The finest day that I ever had was when I learned to cry on command. I never said I was a victim of circumstance. Weep little lion man, you're not as brave as you were at the start.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hilarious or frightening?

A friend of a friend found a purse in PB. While going through it to find out who it belonged to, he found this list of "goals" inside.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way

I am at home sick today. We had a poker tournament over here yesterday, and I ordered pizza from a local place. I thought it was fine (I am not very picky) but a couple of people mentioned that they did not care for it. One guy apparently went home and was sick all night. I woke up this morning feeling fine, but have had major gastro-intestinal distress all morning. I've got some serious abdominal cramps going on.

I can;t get much done around the house since I am in pain, so I am getting a few things done for work on my computer. I am camped out on the back balcony of my house watching airplanes take off and land at Lindbergh field. That by itself is not especially thrilling, but it is a little more interesting when you listen to the Air Traffic Controller.

There goes Southwest 897. Bye Bye. Have fun in Houston.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Important Conversations

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Luck when it counts.

I've done some incredibly stupid things in my life. I am lucky not to have not gotten arrested and jailed for many of them. There are a few other incidents that I am lucky to have lived through.

One night, in the winter of my sophomore year, I was in rare form and managed to polish off nearly an entire bottle of bourbon. Only 20 years old, I already had plenty of experience drinking hard alcohol and knew my tolerances... or so I thought. I failed to take note of the fact that this stuff was 103 proof. So when I approached what I thought was pushing the limit... it was already far too much. As I downed the last swig from the bottle, I knew I was going to regret this night.

I remember walking home in the snow, and collapsing about a block from my house. I managed to crawl the last 200 ft and made it into the side door, soaking wet and cold. I lived in a room off the basement that shared a wall with my roommate Chris. I dragged myself towards my bedroom. I didn't quite make it. I laid in the doorway, half in and out of my room. I felt like every breath was an effort. I tried to get up.. and fell back down. My stomach tensed and I threw up. I didn't have the energy to even lift my head, so my head rested in my own vomit on the carpet. I could barely breathe now. I was so weak I felt like it took a conscious effort to keep my heart beating. I lost all control of my bladder and bowels. When that happened, I felt there was a very good chance I was going to die. Even in this most depraved moment, I was able to comprehend what a tragically pitiful way this would be to end my life. Even having lost control of nearly all body functions, my mind was still aware of the severity of the situation. I knew I was in a bad spot. I was unable to physically help myself. I could not move, so I could not get to the phone to dial 911. My only hope was to try and get the attention of my roommate.

"Help," I mumbled. Nowhere near loud enough. I took a minute to save up the energy for another attempt.

"HELP!" I gasped. It was louder but still probably not enough to rouse him from bed. I figured I had enough energy for maybe one more attempt... so it had better be good. I rationed up the energy and yelled with everything I had left.

"HELPPPPPPPP!!" That was it. I had nothing left. I was resigned to whatever happened at that point. I passed out.

I woke up to freezing cold water blasting my face. Chris and his girlfriend had heard my cries for help and saw my legs extending from my doorway. They found me unconscious in my own piss, shit, and puke. They rolled me onto my comforter and dragged me to the downstairs shower. I sat in the water for a bit. Still too weak to move, they helped get me out of my clothes...which Chris threw in the garbage. I tried to drink some of the shower water but I kept choking.

"hospital..." I whispered.

"OK...I'll get the car."

I nodded..."hospital..." and lost consciousness again.

I woke up in the ER, with an plastic bracelet around one wrist and an IV in the other. There was a cord with a red button at the end of it laying near my hand. I pressed it. A nurse eventually walked in.

"How are you feeling?" I thought about it for a moment and answered honestly.

"Fantastic." I really did.

"I'll let the doctor know you're awake."

I looked around at the equipment in the room. I had a pulse monitor on my index finger and saw the readout on the digital machine it connected to. 72 beats per minute. There were several bags of IV fluid hanging from a hook above me, some empty. A clear liquid quickly dripped through a tube and directly into my bloodstream. There was another larger bag hanging from a hook below me. It was almost full. I traced the tube from that bag up underneath the sheets and found it ended at the tip of my penis.

"Oh.My.God."

Beep Beep Beep Beep. The machine now showed my heart rate at 110. Suddenly I did not feel so fantastic anymore. the severity of the ordeal was becoming clear to me. I was also incredibly uncomfortable having become aware of the long plastic tube that had been jammed through my prick to siphon the urine directly from my bladder. I knew that thing was going to have to come out... and I was not looking forward to its removal.

The doctor arrived and wasted no time explaining to me what a colossal moron I am. He explained that I arrived unclothed, wet, wrapped in a blanket, and near death. I was in hypothermia with a body temperature of 95 degrees. My pulse had slowed to 48. My blood alcohol content was .37. They jammed a tube into my stomach and filled it with charcoal to absorb anything still left in there. Then they pumped it out. They pushed fluids intravenously to rehydrate me. They inserted a catheter to remove that fluid as it passed through me. He explained that I surely would have died without treatment. He was not gentle about it. I believe the question he asked was, "Do you have any fucking idea how lucky you are?"

If his scathing admonishment didn't make enough of an impact on me, the agonizing pain I felt when they removed that catheter... did. It hurts just to think about.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My first fight.

I was 16. This kid, Wesley Forehand, was cruising around my neighborhood with a couple of his buddies. One of them, this little twerp named Scott Gorman, grabbed a bag of grass clippings and threw it onto the my friend Sarah's driveway. It broke open. Sarah yelled at him to pick it up. He called her a bitch. I walked over to see what his problem was... and to get him to clean it up...not realizing I was being baited into a physical confrontation by a trio of delinquents. They were just looking to find an outlet for some pent up macho energy. Any one of them could've just hit me and I would never have seen it coming. But like most macho idiots, they needed to get me to say something that they could use to justify their impending actions. At this age, most kids were all bark and no bite, so I didn't really think anything was going to happen. I figured I'd tell them to shut up and they would eventually leave. I was wrong. Scott started calling me a pussy...repeatedly. Then he shoved me. He was a lot smaller than me, so I thought it odd that he would try to intimidate me physically. I shoved him back. He went toppling over his bike that lay behind him. That's when Wes said, "That's it!" and pulled his shirt off...giving me a split second to realize what was happening. I had never been in a fight, but I remember my dad saying to me once: "If you can work it out by talking, then do that. If you can run, then run. But if you must fight... then make sure you hit him first, hit him as hard as you can, and as many times as you can." So when Wes came at me with his head down (it seemed he was looking to tackle me) it allowed me to put him in a side headlock with one arm, and beat his face in with the other. I heeded my father's words. I was still hitting him when I felt him become heavier and heavier. I was holding him up completely for the last few punches, until he became too heavy. He fell to the grass with a thud. He appeared to be unconscious. A moment went by before I realized what had happened. And then a strange thing happened. I started apologizing. I leaned over and asked if he was ok. I heard muffled moans. I touched his shoulder and apologized again. He eventually rolled over. I had smashed up his face pretty bad. His nose was gushing blood, and his lips were split. He crawled up into a sitting position and kept touching has hand to his face and looking at the blood saying "You broke my nose... You broke my nose." I felt sick.

I apologized again and said something like, "This didn't need to happen" as I turned to pick up my hat that had fallen off during the fight. When I straightened up, everything went white for a second and I felt like I had just woken up. I was dizzy. It wasn't until I saw the third kid, Jesse Ribbey, holding his hands up in a fighting stance, that I realized I had been hit. It was the first time I'd been squarely socked in the face. I touched my fingers to my lip, and looked down to see blood. I tasted it in my mouth. He had totally sucker punched me. He must've felt a bit cowardly, because he didn't hit me again, though he was shuffling and bouncing around like a boxer. My useless friends finally stepped between him and I, and I began walking away. No one came after me. It wasn't until I got to Sarah's house and saw what he had done to my face, that I actually became angry. I wanted to go back outside and fight him, but Sarah's father stopped me. It was probably a good thing. Jesse was a tough kid and would've hurt me pretty bad.

While I was inside tending to my face, Wesley was calling his older brother, a tough-guy named Billy. Wes spread the blood all over his face, and when Billy arrived he told him that I had attacked him. Billy showed up at the door to Sarah's house threatening to kill me. Sarah's dad chased him off, but only after getting on the phone and calling the police. Great... now I have this psychopath chasing me down.

Sarah's dad drove me home and I explained what happened to my parents. They instantly placed blame on me...standard operating procedure in the Kelley household. Sarah's father interjected and explained that I was standing up for his daughter and defending myself. Only then did they seem to become concerned about my injuries.

Apparently I had twisted my ankle during the scuffle and was limping around. Since I had heard my friends tell me they saw Billy Forehand cruising around the neighborhood on his moped, I chose to use a cane that would double as a blunt weapon if I needed it. At school it was a 5-iron. At home in the neighborhood it was a wooden baseball bat.

The stalkings from the older brother became worse. Someone had told him where I lived and he showed up outside the house. My father called the cops, but Billy left before they showed up. My Dad looked up the number in the phonebook and talked to their father on the phone. Apparently the Dad was a bigger moron than the kids, telling my father that I had attacked his son and that I had a beating coming. Yay!

And then... something really weird happened.

One day during band practice, Dave's dad came upstairs and said that Wes Forehand was outside and wanted to talk to me. I looked outside and saw him standing in the driveway. I saw a pickup truck parked across the street with someone in it. The three of us walked outside. I turned to Dave and Kevin. "You gonna watch my back this time?" They promised not to let anyone sucker punch me.

"I'm just here to talk," Wes said, holding his hands up.

I walked up to him, trying to look relaxed but nervous as hell. Dave and Kevin stood a few feet behind me. Wes sort of hung his head sheepishly as I approached. "Hey Greg," Wes said. "I just came by to apologize. You kicked my ass fair and square. I shouldn't have told my brother that you started it. That was fucked up... and I'm sorry." He extended his hand.

I was floored. I looked across the street. I could see Billy forehand sitting in the driver's seat of the pickup truck. This was strange.

"Alright," I said and shook his hand.

"So we're good?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said. "We're good."

"Alright. Thanks, man." He turned, walked to the truck, and got it in. They drove away.

As it turned out, Billy had a rap sheet and had done time in Juvenile Hall. Sarah's father had included in the police report that Billy had threatened to kill me. And then when my father called to report that he was stalking our home... some representative of the law paid Billy a little visit. I don't know if the cops gave him an ultimatum or what, but word got back to me that Billy was looking at more jail time just for making the threats. Also, word had gotten back to Billy that I didn't attack his brother... that it was the other way around and that I was just defending myself. He was pissed. This would explain why Billy personally escorted Wes to apologize to me... I still don't know whether it was the cops or Billy that insisted upon it.

What an ordeal. I suppose it ended well enough. Going forward after that, I felt like it was smarter to avoid confrontation than to have to go through something like this again. Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating being a pussy... just that sometimes its better to laugh things off.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Playing in the Band

In the 4th grade, a crush on the cutest girl in the class prompted me to ask my parents for piano lessons. She too played the piano, and it was my hope that I might be able to use our common interest as a means to make a connection with her. It wasn't a bad idea really, but I now know that all I needed to know was man up and tell her that I "liked" her and that probably would have been enough. But that is the subject for another post.

As it turned out, I had a natural aptitude for music. I learned to read sheet music quickly, and competently performed both classical and modern pieces. I was able to learn songs or concertos I found interesting in a fraction of the time it would take me to learn something I had never heard before. I know this sounds obvious and logical... but the difference was huge. For some reason I had already heard a lot of Beethoven and therefore was able to play many of his piano compositions within days... where as I had not heard much Handel, or Chopin , and it would take me weeks or months to figure out. This would be one of the earlier signs of ADHD that was mostly ignored until later in my life. As electronic music and synthesizers gained popularity, I started becoming more interested in imitating newer styles rather than focus on the classics. For some reasons alot of the sheet music available at the piano store were movie and TV theme songs. I found myself playing the themes from "Cheers", "The Pink Panther", "James Bond", "St. Elmo's Fire", "Live and let Die", and "St. Elsewhere" among many others. At one recital, in between butchered versions of "Fur Elise" and "Canon in D", I broke out my Yamaha synthesizer and played "Axel F" - the theme from Beverly Hills Cop complete with the prerecorded drum mix and accompanying tracks. My father told me later I successfully brought three and half minutes of toe tapping enjoyment to a room full of comatose parents and petrified children.

A few years later I became friends with a kid from around the block named Kevin Baucom, who happened to play the drums. Another friend of ours, Ben Steele, played the guitar and sang. I had a pretty decent Casio synthesizer, so I brought it over and we formed a little band in his garage. In the 6th and 7th grade, "The Albino Fishermen" performed heinously ridiculous offerings like "Dead Squirrel Song" and "Kid in a fridge". The chord progressions were basic, the timing all the same 4/4 metronome, and the lyrics were stupid and meaningless. Another friend of ours, Dave Merritt, was feeling left out so he decided to get a guitar for Christmas and join the noise...despite the fact that we really probably needed a bass player more than a second guitarist.

It was the early 90's and the heyday of the grunge scene. Keyboards were not as prevalent in the popular music, so I got a bass guitar and learned to play it almost overnight. It was a much simpler instrument and I made the transition easily. I started encouraging the band to play covers, as I was greatly embarrassed by the immaturity of Ben's lyrics. I thought it was going to be hard to impress chicks with verses like "I was driving down the street, when all of a sudden I smelled my feet..." So we learned some Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Lemonheads, Rage against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, and continued to write a few songs ourselves that we mixed in. Ben ended up moving away to Indiana. We changed our name to "Carne", I took over singing, and we continued with just the three of us.

After a few years of practice, we actually developed a "sound" that was tolerable enough to actually get us some gigs... at what limited venues were available for a rock trio of high school kids. So it was house parties, battle of the bands, college fraternity parties, and a few small clubs that either ignored liquor laws or thought that we were old enough to play in a bar. I had my heart broken for the first time, started experimenting with pot, and consequently started to write and perform some music that had actual meaning. With inspiration we became a much better band, and even had a small following of friends and classmates. After listening to myself in a few recordings, I came to terms with my limited vocal range and stopped trying to perform covers that my voice couldn't handle. Towards our senior year of high school we were playing gigs where the music was 80% ours, and some of it sounded really good. Today, I still grab the guitar play a few of the songs from back then with fond memories.

After graduation Dave and I headed up to Radford University and roomed together freshmen year. Kevin was 30 minutes across the valley at Virginia Tech. Kevin's older brother was a couple years ahead of us and attending Tech as well, so he hooked us up with a practice space. ON weekends we continued to practice and play gigs. We improved and matured and gradually morphed into a musically gifted act. We were on the verge of finding a lead singer (I finally acquiesced and admitted that I was very limited in my singing capabilities) We had enough material and money. and looked to book some time in an actual recording studio. But it all ended suddenly, when Dave decided to return to Virginia Beach and the girl he left behind. Kevin remained at Virginia Tech, and I at Radford. We didn't look for a replacement for Dave. The growing amount of activity in the rest of our lives took over and the band dissolved. Kevin played a few gigs here and there with some other guys. I played the bass for 6 months in a Sublime-Cover act called "Badfish", but life was too hectic to put the requisite amount of energy back into a real working effort. My cover band broke up when the lead guitarist flunked out. The rest of my extra-curricular activities took up the my time....

...And just like that, my band days were over.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Anger Management Part 2

When a friend has the balls to tell you that you are acting like an asshole... recognize how much they must care about you to say so. It takes an enormous amount of emotional energy to confront a friend. It also takes patience. They can anticipate that however delicately delivered their message might be, it is likely to be initially rejected. It natural to dismiss pointed statements as hyper-judgmental and coming from a perspective of superiority. A common response is to instantly criticize the source and search for evidence of hypocrisy. But doing so only subverts the true purpose and meaning of the act... which is: That they care enough to enter into a painstaking process in the hope that, after your initial resistance fades, you will hear their message. In essence, they are showing they believe you have the maturity and intelligence to accept and consider their feedback. They like you enough to sacrifice their time and energy towards helping you make a positive change. I think its commonly referred to as "tough love".

It's not an easy thing to swallow your pride when someone openly calls your behavior into question. But if the motivation is sincere, that sort of communication should be welcomed. This is something it took me a very long time to learn. Yes... opening yourself up to criticism can be a double edged sword. You may receive some undeserved blame that you would not otherwise... but I still think the overall benefit outweighs the sacrifice. You have to take to bad with the good. A second benefit of this whole process is recognizing your true friends.

My last entry was not an excuse to remove myself from blame. It was not a long winded way of saying "It's my parents fault that I sometimes act this way..." or "I was just unlucky in my surroundings and genetic pre-disposition. That's why I can be jerk at times." In the end we all have a choices. And while our choices may be heavily influenced by the aforementioned factors... they are still ours to make. But through recognizing the reasons why we have developed certain reflexes, and how we have been conditioned to respond in certain situations... it helps us to identify the triggers, and to take preventative action... with the end result being a shift in reaction. This is the basis for behavior modification.

There is a whole series of books "Don't sweat the small stuff (and its all small stuff)". This has commonly been my problem. By the Freudian definition , I can easily be classified as anal-retentive for the classical reasons outlined in the definition. When little things go wrong I have reacted poorly. Conversely, I am at my best in catastrophic situations. Traffic on the freeway making me late for a meeting = freakout. Arrested for DUI = calm and accepting. Lost my phone = Defcon 1. Lost a relative = calm and accepting. The washer machine breaking and leaking water onto the carpet = Nuclear meltdown. Outbreak of war = calm and accepting.

Suffice to say, this strange outlook has cost me. I've lost friends, significant others, and professional relationships... mostly because the energy required to manage the relationship was too much. I exhausted people. In the very same way that my mother imposed a general anxiety even when not present... the very possibility that I might fly off the handle at any moment puts people on edge... even if that moment never comes.

So, having recognized this shortcoming, with the very much appreciated help of people around me (you know who you are)I have implemented the use of tools. This blog is one such tool. It's the chronicles of efforts towards become a better person. Others are more simple. Sometimes I wear a rubber band around my wrist and snap it whenever I feel myself "heating up"... a simple Pavlovian conditioning method. Conscious breathing and meditation also work for me. My ADHD medication also helps keep me focused. There are others, but they all serve the same purpose... to a achieve balance.

It's working. :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anger Management

As to avoid diverging into a theological discussion about nature vs nurture, let's assume for the purposes of this post that both forces play an integral part in shaping us into the people we become. Would I yell and scream and throw temper tantrums if I hadn't observed that behavior somewhere along the line? Perhaps...as there certainly are genetic factors involved. However, it's more likely that my reactions are a conditioned reflex... a learned method of dealing with intense emotion...and a product of my upbringing and environment.

In my particular case, I was described by my parents and siblings as an extremely relaxed infant and toddler. I was mostly pleasant and almost never cried. However, I was raised in an environment of argumentation and confrontation. It was just how things were most days. Someone yelled at someone. There was usually some form of shouting, crying, hitting... something. High stress was just the way of life. It became so normal that we created routines to repeatedly act out. As a random example... My mother was obsessive about the house being clean. It drove everyone insane. She would walk in to the house upon returning home from work and instantly start complaining. No exaggeration... It was instantaneous. "Oh my god this house is FILTHY! It looks like a BOMB hit it!" Her idea of filthy varied greatly from most everyone else's. Suffice to say, it got to the point that it was impossible to relax in the house. The anticipation her coming home and freaking out created anxiety long before the inevitable event occurred. One was afraid to set down a glass or a plate for even a moment. There were rooms that we never even walked into lest we leave some evidence of our trespass.

As a teenager, I began to analyze this behavior and compare it to that of other families. I realized ours was far from an oppressive living environment, yet still not what I would consider normal. I mouthed off to my mother one day and said something along the lines of, "I could spend all afternoon scrubbing this place and you would still find something wrong with it." She disagreed. I decided to back up my words and I began to conduct experiments to satisfy my own morbid curiousity. On several different occasions I came home from school in the afternoon, got high, and started cleaning furiously for the next 3 hours. I found the manual labor to be that much less soul-crushing when I was stoned. I would focus on the kitchen and eating area, which was the entryway to the home from the garage. It was amusing for me to clean everything, and then sit back and observe as my mother would come home and launch into her machinations... only to slowly realize that the house wasn't as "filthy" as she expected/wanted it to be. She could tell that I had obviously cleaned, but invariably she managed to find fault with the "way" I had done it. Maybe I put a pot in the drying rack, instead of toweling it dry... and since it was stainless steel surely there would be water spots, so i would have to do it again. Heaven forbid there be water spots on the outside of a pot while you boiled water in it. Or maybe I had not dusted the curtains before vacuuming...something she would have no way of knowing unless she asked and I answered honestly. If somehow I had managed to mostly get it right she would simply walk through the cleanest areas and into another part of the house until she found something out of place or unclean so she could express her disapproval. Its strange the routines that people choose. Its strange how we can be more comfortable with something to be upset about than when theres nothing amiss... just because we have gotten so used to it being that way. Often enough the timing worked out that my mother would be in full battle mode by the time that my father got home. He would lose his patience quickly (definte genetic influence) and tell her to relax in an irritated and condescending manner. Then the fireworks would begin. It would be very unusual for that not to spill onto the children in some way.

Going forward, the rest of us... my brother, sister, and myself... certainly dealt with irritations, problems, inconveniences, etc. in the same general manner. The procedure when confronted with an obstacle seemed to be 1)Curse and throw or hit something 2)Go about trying to figure out a way to fix it.

Don't get me wrong. We had plenty of good times, and it was certainly not a prison sentence growing up in our household. My parents did a great job. And when everyone did relax, we could have a very fun time. But to be perfectly honest, it was a rare occasion that the entire family could do anything together without at least one major arguement/blowup/dramatic incident. It was just how we operated within the group.

I began to avoid being at home. I would often spend the night at a friend's house on the weekends... and most afternoons were with after school activites, or hanging out with friends either outside or at their homes. Nonetheless, I was at home enough of time for the atmosphere to shape my rapidly changing personality.

Even after I left home for the first time, my already exisisting inclination towards confrontational behavior was only bolstered by my involvment with my college fraternity. Screaming at pledges was normal. Screaming at other members was normal. Freaking out was normal. It was so normal, that one might not think you were passionate about something if you failed to raise your voice or drop in a few F bombs. I became president of that organization and did my fair share of issuing passionate statements. It was basically my job. I was in a position of authority, and people often looked to me for the answers. I had to be emphatic and confident in my decisions. I learned that in order to convey the importance of my message it usually had to have a threatening or menacing tone.

I carried this mentality into the workplace. When things went wrong I started yelling. If people didn't listen to me I just yelled louder. If they still didn't get it I just stopped talking to them altogther. A similar procedure would be used for inanimate objects. If something didnt work right, and I failed to fix it after repeated attempts... I might just smash it to bits. Now its destroyed... gotta get a new one. Problem solved.

Unhealthy? Hell yes.

Before I could even set about modifying my beavior I had to realize there was something wrong with it. That doesn't come as easily as it might sound. It requires a removal of pride, an admission of wrong-doing, and the courage to change. But before any of that can occur, it has to be brought to my attention.

More next time about the people that cared enough to tell me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rear-view Mirror

I can recall going through "down" periods even as a very young child...as early as 3 years old. My parents would see that I was very quiet and somber and often ask me, "What's the matter?" I didn't have the ability at that age to articulate it. I would not be able to convey much more than, "I don't know...I just feel sad." I was also (and still am to a large extent) very shy. As long as I can remember, I've mostly felt out of place...that I don't belong. More often than not, I feel uncomfortable unless in familiar surroundings and around people with whom I am close and have grown to trust.

This was problematic as the son of a Marine Corps aviator. Our family moved a lot when I was very young, as he was transferred cross-country for different assignments. At 2, we moved from Monterrey CA to Virginia Beach, VA. At age 5 we moved to Irvine, CA. At age 8, we moved back to Virginia Beach. I can only assume that having these moves occur during my developmental years has manifested itself in my personality traits. My natural shyness had to be overcome since I found myself in new places trying to make new friends so often. I compensated by acting out... getting into trouble... attracting attention to myself. I became the class clown. All throughout elementary and high school and even into later years, I would seek out mischief despite a mostly disciplined upbringing: A continuation of this learned behavior. But throughout it all, those periods of unfocused sadness would still come around. I remember one fall being so out of it that I completely forgot I was on a baseball team. I only remembered when I opened a seldom used drawer and saw the uniform there... brand new.

Exhibiting signs of manic-depression did not prompt my parents to seek any sort of psychological counseling that I can recall. And that wasn't abnormal. We were raised in a different time by parents that both came from a more traditional background. The kind where if you have a problem you just "deal with it". I think it was still a time when people were afraid to go to a shrink lest everyone hear about it and start rumors that they were insane. Not many people were really aware or educated about attention deficit disorder until I was already in college. Even then it carried a negative stigma with it... perpetuated by people like my parents. We would see a story on the news about it, and my parents would say something along the lines of "That's the problem with America these days. Everyone is making excuses for themselves. No one wants to work to solve their problems, so they just medicate their children..." and so on and so forth. What they said made sense to me. After all, there were high incidences of mis-diagnosis and abuse of the prescription medications. I remember automatically thinking ill of people I met that took meds to cope with what I had been taught were imaginary illnesses. I thought that they were "just lazy", and that taking Ritalin was a cop out. Perhaps it was this disdain that allowed me to ignore the attention deficit, manic-depressive, and obsessive-compulsive traits that I had exhibited throughout my entire life.

It wasn't until I was in my late 20's that I began to think maybe there was something abnormal about the way my brain worked. At work I found myself unable to stay with a task for more than minutes at a time. I would start multiple projects before finishing others as a way to constantly keep busy yet never be working on the same thing for too long. Some people even mentioned that they believed I might have ADHD. At first I just dismissed it... figuring they were too quick to put labels on things. Then I began to educate myself on the subject. I began to think that maybe I had some related condition.. some sort of "adult onset" version...since I couldn't recall having these problems when I was young. As I continued to educate myself about the condition, I realized the signs have been present all along... it just had't been enough of an obstacle for me to really examine closely it until now. One by one, memories of situations from my past came back to me, and all the pieces began to fall into place. I was 30 years old when I had this moment of realization. I was somewhat disappointed that it had taken me this long to stop and take the time to much more closely examine myself. A long period of introspection followed that continues today and throughout the rest of my foreseeable life. There have been countless revelations, epiphanies, setbacks and complications. It wasn't until I was 32 that I finally sought out professional help. There was no level of ambiguity in the eyes of my physician. His diagnosis was fairly emphatic. ADHD with associative symptoms of manic-depression and OCD. These disorders are the result of chemical deficiencies in my brain...something that has been present since birth. I combat these issues now using a combination of psychotherapy and medication... of which the "cocktail" is till being fine-tuned.

The improvement to my overall quality of life has been dramatic. I liken it to a paraplegic finally obtaining the use of a wheelchair rather than dragging himself across the floor. So many things continue to be explained and corrected... And while the differences in some areas of my life are like night and day... there are others that will improve more slowly. I will continue to take time to work on these things. But, its like having painted a mural in the dark for so long, and finally having the light turned on.

Better living through chemistry


FDA Approves Depressant Drug For The Annoyingly Cheerful

Monday, August 9, 2010

Let no good deed go unpunished

With the aid of a few coaches, some videos, and lots of hours in the batting cage, I managed to develop a swing. I wasn't a huge kid, but I learned to make good contact with the ball. I was never going to be fantastic, but at least I wasn't relegated to bunting or striking out.

In the 8th grade I went out for the JV baseball team at school. Most of the kids knew me, but the coaches hadn't seen me at all because I hadn't bothered trying out in 7th grade. I didn't really look the part of a baseball player. I had hardly anything in the way of equipment. I had a glove and cleats, but everything else had always been provided by the team, uniforms included. So, I had to borrow a bat from a friend. I wore jeans instead of baseball pants. I wore an suicidal tendencies t-shirt, not a jersey like the other kids. I definitely looked out of place.

The coaches didn't bother asking me what position I played... they just put me in right field. Right field is generally where they put the worst kid on the team. The idea is that he can't screw up too much out there since he won't have too many balls hit his way. But, as it turned out there were quite a few left-handed batters in tryouts that year, so I saw plenty of balls. I was able to showcase my speed and my arm. On one very shallow blooper, I threw out a runner at first base. Ok, so he was fat and slow... but still, I threw a guy out at first from the outfield. At the plate I went 1 for 3, with a strikeout, a deep fly to center, and a double. I made the first round of cuts and came back the next day.

The coach asked me to play center field on the second day of tryouts, presumably because he figured I covered more ground than the other outfielders. I saw this as a big thing... moving me out of the dreaded "right field". This gave me some added confidence that showed at the plate. I went 2 for 3, with a strikeout, a double, a base hit, and also walked once. I stole second on the walk. I was ecstatic. All the hard work over the winter had paid off. I was going to make the team for sure. How could I not? I had hit 2 doubles, 1 single, and a stolen base. And threw out a guy at first from the outfield!

Sure enough, I did make the second round of cuts, which was normally the last one. But I learned that there was going to be a third cut. They had to get rid of two more guys. Of those remaining, there were only 5 guys that weren't on the team from last year. 2 of those guys were considered to be a shoe in. One because he was a phenomenal pitcher, and the other because he is the little brother of the team's star player... but a very good ball player in his own right. So in actuality, there were really only 3 possible people that could get cut. Me: a relative unknown that was playing great, but certainly didn't look or act the part. Jon Vann: a football player that didn't seem to have much baseball skill. Lex Sheriff: A 7th grade up-and-coming athlete. He played basketball, football, baseball, and was on the wrestling team. I knew Lex and had played with him in the Pony-Colt leagues. He was good. He had timing, coordination, and good athletic ability. He was also a good guy that I considered a friend. He was having a horrible tryout though. He was hitless, striking out almost every at bat. He was trying out for pitcher, and had been getting rocked. After talking to him, he seemed pretty dejected. I think there was a lot of pressure on him and he was a bundle of nerves. One of us three would make it, the other two were out.

On the third day of tryouts, I had another hit and another stolen base. I played left field this time...my third position in as many days. What was really strange was that the coach asked me to play 3rd base. I told him I had no experience at 3rd. He seemed disappointed that I would turn down the offer... and then he said, "Okay go play left then." I thought it was weird that suddenly he would ask me to play the infield. Out in left, I had a few fly balls and grounders. Then Lex came to the plate. He was something like 0 for 12 going into this at-bat. The pitcher, a guy we both knew, slowed his delivery down a bit. I knew he was just giving Lex a chance to finally get a hit. Lex swung hard and got under the first pitch...fouled back. Then on the next one he lifted it. It was definitely going over the third baseman's head, but it was spinning blooper and really shallow. I charged hard but I wasn't going to get to it...unless maybe I dove headfirst...and even then it was unlikely. I checked up, as I think anyone else would do, took it off of one hop and tossed to second. Lex finally had a hit. I smiled for him.

About 30 minutes later, as we came into the dugout, the coach was all fired up about something. He was sort of yelling at everyone and no one in particular as he paced back and forth. Something about slacking... not running hard... and then as I got within earshot, I caught his quick gaze and it came, "If I EVER see anyone let a fly ball drop, I will run you until you all until you throw up!" Ba dump bump. I just sort of smiled incredulously and shook my head. Unbelievable.

As young as I was, I could still recognize this cowardly passive-aggressive bullshit. It was the typical politics. The coach was in a tough spot. He had this nobody kid who was playing great... and he had this big name kid that was playing awful. It was then that I realized what was going on. The third cut was all just a dog and pony show. He needed to find a reason and I gave him exactly what he needed on that blooper. I think if I had dove for it and cracked my face open if it wouldn't have made any difference. That's why he tried to get me to play third. He had the guy that was supposed to be an all star, and he had the raggedy kid that didn't even have his own bat. The yelling shit in the dugout was all for my benefit and the anyone else within earshot. We all knew there was no way Vann was gonna make it ,he had an awful tryout too. He only brought that poor guy back the third day so it wouldn't be too obvious when he cut me.

I saw Lex in the parking lot and congratulated him. I meant it too. He also knew what was up. "Sorry Greg, you played great. It's not really fair." He was a good guy. "That's ok...thanks." I knew that it meant more to him than it did to me, so I wasn't really that pissed. Plus, I knew that he probably would play better all season than I would. My tryout was kind of a fluke... to be perfectly honest. But it was the concept of bringing us all out the next day for this whole charade... and yelling at a kid that hit .500. Lame.

The cut list came out the next day. Sure enough. I think it was that moment that I stopped giving a shit about sports.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My late introduction to American sports

At the age when a lot of kids were playing T-ball or getting ready for peewee football, I was playing soccer and riding horses. I got started with both in Irvine, CA right around kindergarten. I kept up with both for awhile but eventually the horse shows would interfere with the soccer games, and I had to choose one or the other. It's not that I didn't like riding... I just didn't derive much satisfaction from the competitions. We got little ribbons for trotting old nags in a circle around a corral. I didn't understand the appeal. So, I still went out and rode the horses on trail rides for fun, but chose to go with soccer for competition.

The AYSO was the governing organization in Southern California and very popular. There were teams at all levels and games every weekend. Some of the teams I was on include the "Red Hot Chili Peppers", the "The B-52's", even the "Blue Mondays" (our coach was a total 80's emo guy). Now, in the beginning, there wasn't much in the way of tactical strategy. Boys and girls would run onto the field and bunch together in what looked like a rugby scrum, and kick frantically at the ball until it eventually popped out. The swarm would then run after it and repeat this until, hopefully, the ball would find its way into one of the goals.

When we moved to Virginia Beach in 1986, I continued to play soccer there. The leagues were organized differently into rec, advanced, and select leagues. I made the advanced team for my area in the 4th grade, and then moved up to play select in 5th and 6th grade. We traveled around to other cities and played their select teams. I played a variety of positions over the years, but mostly goalkeeper and forward. I preferred the former because I liked the uniqueness of the position, but coaches were insistent about playing me at forward because I was a very fast. I proved to be more of an asset on offense. In addition to my speed, I was one of few players that could pass proficiently at that level. I ended both seasons leading the league in assists.

As I got older, soccer wasn't quite as popular with my friends. They were way more excited about baseball and football. With pressure to fit in, I decided to try them both. Regrettably, I eventually had to give up soccer to do so. I wish I had stuck with it... but c'est la vie. Now, heres the thing... I had athletic ability, but almost ZERO knowledge about the games themselves. I knew nothing about strategy or technique, in either arena. The coaches were there to teach us some stuff, but by the time I started playing, most of these kids had learned the basics already. I had no such experience. I had to learn from scratch how to throw and catch and hit... in both games. I did so quickly, but I still lacked the awareness to know what to do in specific game situations. I was just kind of daft when it came to these games.

For example: At football tryouts I was recognized immediately for my speed. I ran the sprints faster than anybody. They tried me at wide receiver, but I couldn't catch well enough with all the equipment on, nor could I understand timing patterns, or how to create diversions or block on running plays. Often I would ignore the play call and just run a deep fly because I knew I was faster and could get open. I didn't understand that quarterbacks at this level could not even throw the deep ball... much less have the awareness to see I was open and that I had called my own audible and decided to go for the end zone. I was just daft. So they put me at running back. They explained the plays to me...and where I was supposed to run when they handed me the ball. OK, I think I can handle this. What I did not comprehend was that if the "hole" I was supposed to run through wasn't open, that I was supposed to improvise...change directions...find a way to get upfield. I just didn't get it. I would mostly get tackled at or near the line of scrimmage. And on plays where I did not get the ball, I didn't understand that I was supposed to block. After a few weeks at running back, the coaches gave up and moved me to defense. They started me in the secondary, usually as safety, again hoping to capitalize on my speed. This worked better, as I understood I was supposed hit the guy with the ball. I did become proficient at hitting. I learned to tackle the proper way, by lowering the shoulder, driving with my legs, keeping low, wrapping my arms around their legs, and lifting to take them off their feet. In practice the coaches screamed and yelled at us to hit as hard as we could. It resonated with me and I did that every play. I can remember hearing the groan and feeling the air go out of a kid's lungs when I would level him in the open field. I always felt so bad for him. I would get up and ask him if he was ok after I hit him... and then offer a hand to help him up. I wasn't taunting... I was truly concerned. My teammates made fun of me and called me "Care Bear" because I seemed to feel the pain of everyone. But playing the secondary didn't work out that great either because I had no clue what to do when it came to adapting or improvising on the fly. I didn't know how to shift coverages in zone defenses, or when to drop back, when to blitz, etc. I would blow my coverage often. I would bite on fakes often. I just didn't understand the nuances of the game. My father seemed to see this and suggested a position change to my coach. By the 8th grade they moved me to the defensive line and gave me a simple task...one which I already knew well: "Hit the guy with the ball. Hit him as hard as you can." I could do that. I did it really well and it worked out for awhile. Then in one game, the O-lineman that was supposed to pull and block me screwed up and left a gaping hole where I was lined up. I ran straight into the back field untouched. It was a pass play and the QB was standing in the pocket waiting to throw. He was a lefty and did not see me coming as I ran straight towards his turned back. I lowered my shoulder and launched myself at him. There it was... that unmistakable "ughhhhhhhhh" as all the air was forced from his lungs. I heard and felt the bones break as the weight of his body and mine crushed his arm and shoulder into the helmet of another player on the ground. He lost the ball when I hit him and one of my teammates picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown. The crowd was going nuts but all I could hear was the sound of this kid gasping for air. I laid there on the ground with him asking him if he was ok... telling him I was so sorry... and then he just let loose this guttural moan that I can still hear. There was foam coming from his mouth and snot all over his nose. The tears poured from his eyes. The refs pulled me off and sent me back to the sidelines, and I started sobbing uncontrollably. I was so upset that I didn't want to play the second half. I left the field and went to call my Dad to take me home. I skipped practice all week and the next game. My Dad talked to me about it and made me feel better. I came back and played the next week, but I knew it was my last season. I did not like how I felt when I hurt someone, and could not understand how everyone else thought I was crazy for feeling that way.

I was playing baseball during the same period of years as well. I started out in 5th grade in the Virginia Beach "Pony-Colt" baseball league. Once again I was the fastest guy on the team. I also found out that I could throw very hard. Outfield was the natural choice. They did try me at third base because of my arm, but it was apparent that that I was clueless when it came to where to throw the ball with men on, how to cover other bases, where to play in the field against different hitters, how to check a runner back to second before throwing to first, etc. I was just an error waiting to happen in the infield. So I played left field mostly. Even then, I would screw things up. I would forget how many outs there were. I would get nervous and throw to the wrong base on a ground ball. I remember one particular game, I was playing too shallow in left. I should have been a bit deeper because their slugger was up and they had a man on third, but I just didn't understand these types of things. Sure enough, he absolutely crushes one. I see the ball right off the bat and know its going deep. I turn and take off on a dead sprint towards the wall. Just before the warning track I extend my arm across my body, reach as far as I can, and leap in a desperate attempt at getting to this uncatchable ball. This was dumb. Jumping ensures that I am going to fall and hit the ground. Then the ball is going to bounce of the fence, and I am going to have to get back on my feet and chase after it.... giving the batter another base. The smart play is to hold up and play the ball off the fence and maybe hold the batter to a single since I have a good arm. The man on third is going home anyways so there was no point in trying to save that run. I think I sort of realized this as I was in mid-air...but it was obviously too late. Then, by some miracle, I felt the ball hit the webbing of my glove. I had caught it. I landed on my upper-side/shoulder since I had to spin around to try and catch the ball. My rotation allowed me to kind of roll back up onto my feet very quickly. "MAN ON THIRD!" was all I could think of. I took a crow hop and fired an absolute missile towards home plate. The catcher did not even have to move. He stood there standing straight up. The ball hit his glove on the fly. That was when I noticed there was no runner. "Had he not tagged up? Had he scored already?" I thought. Then I see the catcher, Brian, shake his his head and casually roll the ball towards the mound. The rest of the team headed towards the dugout. I turned bright red as I realized there had been two outs and my catch had ended the inning. As I got back to the dugout, I hung my head as my teammates said, "Nice throw Kelley..." and "way to gun that guy out at home".

Hitting was hard for me. I had no background in it. I hadn't play T-ball. I hadn't played coach-pitch. I had only played some wiffle ball and pickup neighborhood games here and there...and we used a tennis ball for that so that we wouldn't break windows. I only started going to the batting cages after joining the rec league team. I had no idea how to read pitches, or deal with off-speed stuff. In short... I sucked. I struck out a lot. What I could do... was run. So the coach would often pull me aside before I went to bat and tell me to bunt. It worked often enough. They wouldn't be expecting it and I would run it out. And once on base I would always try to steal second if it was open. That worked often enough too. What I didn't realize is that if there were other guys on base... they had to know that I was going to bunt... and that's why you don't just decide to bunt on your own. I figured if I tried to hit and struck out... but got to first when I bunted... then I should bunt all the time. We would have a guy on first with no outs and I would just randomly through down a bunt. Of course the base runner wasn't ready and would just get thrown out at second...sometimes even a double play if I bunted it badly. I;m pretty sure the coaches told me not to bunt unless they said to... but I think I sort of ignored that and did it anyway. I was pretty dumb when it came to sports.

Eventually I learned this stuff. I also learned how to hit. My Dad started taking me to the batting cages almost every weeknight. By the time Junior Varsity tryouts came along, I could hit for power. More about that in another post entitled "Let no good deed go unpunished..."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"We're not finished crashing yet..."

Before things became hellish between the union and the company, KGTV was a great place to work. I started there in 2000 as a part-time employee and eventually landed myself a full-time job. In operations and Engineering we were represented by a union, and the contract that I was hired under was pretty good for the employee. We were given ample vacation and comp days, great overtime compensation, and even extra money for hazardous work, like flying in the helicopter.

I started going up in SKY10 in 2004. I had the unique position of working hours that fell between the two standard shifts. Often times I would one of the only people around during the day. So when something "big" was happening, I would often get called to run out to the helicopter pad and chase the story. My job was to operate the nose mounted camera, as well as mix the audio, and operate the microwave transmission equipment. It was a fun gig. I never had a problem dropping everything I was doing so that I could go fly.

It was just another day, and just another "breaking news" situation. I got the call and ran out to the pad where the pilot already had the engine going and the blades spinning. Also already on board was one of the fairly new female reporters. I don't even remember what the story was... probably another freeway chase or perhaps a brush fire flaring up somewhere. I hopped in the back, got my seat belt on, put on my headset and we lifted off.

The Station is located just off the 94 freeway east of downtown San Diego, and almost directly underneath the final approach to Lindbergh Field. It is well within the "Class B" controlled airspace, and as such, our departures and arrivals at the station are managed by the tower at the airport. However, often times it was difficult to get a transmission to the Lindbergh Tower from the ground at the station because of the close proximity to the building between us and the airport. It was common practice to lift off and hover in an air taxi and then request and await clearance from the tower. On nearly every occasion the communication between us and the tower would go something like this:

SKY10: "Lindbergh Tower, SKY10"
Lindbergh Tower: "Go ahead Sky 10."
SKY10: "We are just lifting off from the station, and would like to depart to the north along the 805"
LT: "SKY10, Inbound aircraft is a 737 at 5 miles. Report contact."
SKY10: "Yes I see the 737."
LT: "Maintain visual separation with that aircraft. Clear to depart the Class Bravo airspace to the north. Climb to 1000 ft and maintain heading 030. Good day."
SKY10: "SKY10"

There were always some variations, like maybe a different aircraft on approach, or we would be heading a different direction, but that's how it went 9 times out of 10. This day would be a bit different. As we lifted off the conversation started as normal, but this time the information given from the tower included this:

"SKY 10, aircraft just passing overhead is a Boeing 767. Caution: Wake turbulance..."

The next thing I knew I was almost falling out of the door. The camera control unit had fallen from my lap and hit the ceiling. This was due to the fact that the helicopter had spun nearly upside down. I had no time to comprehend what the hell was happening, but I could hear the reporter making a weird gutteral sound in the headset. She had dropped her leather-bound notepad and it had fallen into the backseat and was slapping me in the face as it got tossed around the cabin. I heard the engine whining at full throttle and the entire helicopter was rattling and shaking as the pilot attempted keep us righted and in the air. I didn't even have time to think about dying, I was too busy trying to figure out which way was up.

"SKY10 report your position!" said the ATC at Lindbergh.
Pilot: (as calm as a hindu cow) "I'll let you know in a second, we haven't finished crashing yet."

The reporter screamed. I heard the sound of car alarms going off. The helicopter stopped buffeting. I straightened up and looked out the window. We were hovering about 15 feet off the ground and directly above the parking lot of the TV station. There was a green Porsche close enough to spit on. We were at nearly 1000 ft a few seconds before this. The pilot slowly and gingerly guided the aircraft sideways and back over to the pad and set us down. He killed the engine immediately.

The reporter was hysterical. She was flailing about in an attempt to get her seat-belts off. The pilot tried to help her but she kind of slapped at his hands. She eventually freed herself, and bolted towards the building. She would admit to me later that she had peed herself.

"Holy shit, what happened?" I asked.
"We got caught in his wake . There was no way to know until we're already in it."
"Holy shit..." was all I could manage to say. Just then the assignment desk editor at the station hopped on the radio.

"SKY10 what's your ETA to the scene? We want to do a live cut-in"

He just reached up and turned off the radio. I called her on my phone a moment later to tell her there would be no live cut-in happening until we all got a change of underwear. I would later find out that we flew directly through one of the wingtip vortices of the 767. Its basically a swirling tunnels of air that is created as the wing creates lift. It had nearly flipped us completely upside down. Once a helicopter like that gets upside down its not a good thing. The pilot would also later tell me that had we been about 100 feet lower we would have crashed for sure.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Atlantic Shitty

Spring break generally happened in mid March at Radford. The weather in town was usually horrible around this time of year; Rainy...still pretty cold. Most people were from towns or cities nearby, so they would just go home for a week. My sophomore year I couldn't afford to fly home to San Diego or to go down to Panama City and party it up, so I just decided to hang out in town.

The town (city technically) of Radford is built around the University and its students. During breaks, the area is literally deserted, except for the locals and a few students like me that have nowhere to go. A few of my friends were in a similar situation, so we got together on the first Saturday preceding the week off to drink excessively and think up something fun to do. Somewhere between two and three sheets, I had the bright idea of driving us all up to Atlantic City. None of us had ever been. The idea was almost instantly agreed upon.


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I figured it would only take us 8 hours or so to get up there. It was the off season, so I found us a hotel room at the Trump Taj Mahal for $40 a night. I even got my parents to give me an early birthday present and deposit some money in my bank account... the balance of which was somewhere around $21 or so. The next morning me, Jason Hughes, Shane McBreen, and Mike Darling hopped into my Volkswagen and hit the road. I stopped at the ATM on the way out of town and withdrew the $300 my parents had given me; by far the largest cash gift I had ever received. The weight of the 15 bills felt good in my wallet.

Aside from traffic around the DC Beltway, we made pretty good time and rolled into Atlantic City at about 8 PM. When you exit the AC expressway onto Missouri Ave it looks like a nice town...for about a block or two. Then I took a left onto Atlantic Avenue, and saw what kind of neighborhood I was really in. There was a "Cash 4 Gold" sign on every block. Some had more than one. Most of these pawn shops were directly next to a liquor store and it wasn't uncommon to see someone exit the former and immediately enter the latter. There was literally a line of people waiting for soup in front of a Church, and every other block had men standing around empty oil barrels or trash cans that had been made into makeshift fire pits, warming their hands. I shifted my gaze up towards a large building in the distance. It looked like it had once been a resort hotel, but now was completely gutted. Most of the windows had been smashed. There were trash can fires burning on multiple levels of the 20 story building. People lived up there. I came to a stop at a red light and was instantly approached by a sketchy looking dude that had been milling around on the corner. I locked the doors. He saw this and was somehow offended by my precaution. "Fuck you whiteboy mothafucka!" as he went back to his corner. My guess is that he was 1) a pimp 2) a drug dealer 3) just looking for a handout.

"Atlantic Shitty," I said out loud. My friends laughed. It stuck. We referred to the town that way for the entire week, and even years to come. The weather was just as miserable here. It seemed evident that we would likely not leave the hotel for the duration of the trip. We got checked in and into our room. It seemed nice enough. I was anxious to hit the poker room, as I had heard this was the best place to play in town. The others went off to find some slot machines and blackjack.

At this point in my life I thought I knew something about poker because I had read a few books, I had seen "Rounders", and I even made a little money in the home games at school. I went downstairs to the poker room and sat down at a low stakes Texas hold-em game. I proceeded to lose $100 fairly quickly. I got up for a little bit to think about whether I wanted to blow every dime I had on me... and end up in the soup line out in front of the church. I decided I would buy another $100 worth of chips, and if I lost it then that was it. I would just not gamble for the rest of the trip and spend the remaining money on food and drinks.

I sat back down and bought another $100. After a few rounds my stack had dwindled down to about $20 and I started to mumble about what I was going to do if I went broke. Just as I said that, the woman sitting next to me put her hand on my leg and said, "You'll be ok... just stay here and sit with me for a little bit longer...things will turn up, I promise." She smiled. It took me a moment to recognize what might be going on... and even then I wasn't sure. It became more clear when as I lost my last chip the woman bought another rack and placed it in front of me. "Keep playing. You'll win eventually." So I kept playing. I took a glance at her. She was definitely in her late 40s or early 50's. She was wearing rings on almost every finger so it was tough to tell if she was married. Did she want me to "repay" her somehow, or was she just being generous? And I did win a pot here and there. But what I didn't realize is that I was horrible at this game. Everyone knew when I had a hand and when I didn't. Even if I got a on a really lucky streak, I was just outmatched. I would lose it back eventually. Sure enough, I was down to my last few chips again. She bought another rack and put it in front of me. She started chatting me up...asking questions about me. Where was I from? What was I doing here? I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. Then... it finally happened. I got a huge hand and won a gigantic pot. I had won back the $200 she had given me plus a little bit. I was happy and excited. When I sat back down she put her hand back on my thigh and leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Are you hard right now?" and then moved her hand to find out for herself.

Whoa. Am I being propositioned? She stayed close to my ear and whispered again, "Whaddya you say we take that money and go get some room service and bottle of champagne..." Uhhh, yep. I was being propositioned. I was clueless as to how to handle the situation. I just started stammering. "Um, well, uh, I can't see because I have to meet my friends, we are out here and supposed to meet up for dinner..." It was 3 am, and a bit late for dinner. I left her $200 on the table and took the $130 that belonged to me and hauled ass.

I didn't return to the poker room for the rest of that week, for fear that she might be in there and continue the unwanted advances. I still wonder if I would had to sleep with her if I had lost the money... doubtful but still a scary thought.

So the next day, it was off to play craps instead, where skill doesn't play as big a part in winning or losing. In fact, sometimes, if you play very stupidly, you can win a lot of money. I placed my first bet on the pass line, barely knowing what that meant. I just saw everyone else doing it so I followed suit. The shooter rolled a 7 and the dealer put another two $5 chips next to the ones I had just placed there. I didn't know if I had won or what so I did nothing. He asked me, "Do you wanna press it?" I also didn't know what that meant but found myself casually saying, "Yes, let's press it. He stacked the new chips on top of the old ones. The shooter rolled again. Another 7. Four more more chips. Again I just sort of stood there, hands folded in front of me. "Press again?" I nodded. He stacked them on top of one another. The shooter rolls. It was a 10 this time. Now the dealer asks me a new and even more confusing question. "You want odds on that?" Not wanting to appear confused I said "Sure!" He shrugged at me. "How much?" he asked. "I don't know," I replied. "What would you recommend?" He appeared annoyed. "You can go up to 5 times the bet. You bet $40, so you can put any where from $40 to $200 in $40 increments." I only had brought the $130 so I had exactly $120 left and put it all on the "odds"... whatever that meant. I watched as the guy with the dice rolled a bunch of other numbers. Other people were winning and losing money but my chips just sat there....until the shooter rolled double fives. Everyone at the table shouted in excitement. "10! Winner! Pay the line!" exclaimed the guy in the middle with the stick. I looked down and the dealer was stacking and re-stacking and adding all kinds of chips to my pile. They were all splayed out. Finally a guy next to me leans over and says, "You know... that's your money down there. You won it. You can pick it up anytime you want." Relieved, I gathered up the chips. The dealer looked at me and said, "Not gonna press it this time?" with a wry smile. I decided it was time to go. I brought the chips over to the cashier and she counted me out 4 crisp $100 bills and two $20s.

Wow. It might have been the most money I had even won gambling. I met up with my friends and we went to dinner. I offered to pay for the horrible buffet food we had just eaten. After dinner we headed off to try some blackjack.... more on that later.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Give me the money

In late spring of 1998 I was at a friend's house for a party. He had just returned from The Bahamas or Puerto Rico or some other Caribbean island destinations. While he was down there he spent some time in one of the casinos and became enamored with blackjack. It was all he could talk about. Eventually he went digging through his things and came up with an old blanket, a deck of cards, and some plastic poker chips. He used a magic marker to draw a makeshift blackjack layout on the blanket, draped it over a coffee table and before long was dealing cards to me and a couple of other guys. He was only using a single deck, and dealing all the way to the end of it. I was able to count into it, and bet more when the situation was favorable for the player. He recognized this commented that he should probably be using more than one deck.

There was another party the next week, and this time he was a bit more well prepared. He had 4 decks of cards laying sideways inside a tissue box, and big glass ball that acted as a sort of weight to push them forward as he dealt them out. He ended up making a little bit of money that night. What surprised me was how many people were playing. They were lining up waiting for a spot. Every seemed to be really enjoying it.I couldn't ignore what I saw as a relatively lucrative opportunity. The closest casino was 500 miles away in Atlantic City. This was an untapped market.

Over the summer, I hopped on the internet and found a casino supply wholesale company. I ordered a professional layout, 144 decks of cards, custom made chips with my initials on them, a "shoe" for holding and dealing 6 decks of cards at once, a discard holder, a chip tray.... the whole deal. Upon returning to school in the fall, I built the table and set up shop in the corner of my fraternity house's living room. There were parties there twice a week. The table was an instant hit.

My routine became fairly simple. I would stop by the grocery store and pick up a few cases of beer and some ice and stock the cooler that I kept beneath the table. Anyone playing would not have to leave to get another drink or bother with an annoying keg line. Generally, I would show up at the party around 8, deal until about 12, then close up shop and party until 2. At first, the table limits were $2 minimum to $25 max. After a few months I had built up a big enough bankroll that I could now allow up to a $100 max bet. Word got out and the guys with more money started showing up. There weren't that many rich kids at my school, so most of these guys were hustlers of some sort... usually drug dealers. By winter break, my average weekly profit had grown to about 2 grand. There were some nights when I lost and would have to shut down because the players had won everything that I had on me at the time. I realized that it behooved me to have more money to bank with so that I wouldn't have to close down if the players went on a good run early. It made good sense mathematically. The longer they played, the greater chance of they had of losing. This same mentality also encouraged me to deal later into the night, which had an added benefit since the players would be more tired and drunk, and make bad decisions. As it turns out it was me that was making the worst decisions.

One night the game broke at about 2 am. I took a small loss on the night, but I was pretty happy because I had been down big early. I packed up the chips and cards and headed out the back door to my car. I popped the hatchback and placed the gear in my trunk. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of a pump action shotgun slide moving forward...

Ca-CLINK.

The barrel was cold, and I flinched when it was pressed against the base of my skull.

"Hand it over," were the only words spoken by my assailant.

"Ok," I said. "Its in my pocket. I don't have a gun... just...don't shoot me."

I reached into my pocket and produced the roll of bills. He took it. I left my hands up. I thought I heard at least one or maybe two other voices whispering. And as quick as they were there... they were gone. I heard their car pull away down the alley. I stood still. I had no desire to run after them or catch a glimpse of my attackers. I just wanted them to be gone.

They got away with about $2500 that night. At first I was sick about it, but then I realized it could have been a lot worse. They could have followed me home, killed me, and taken everything. I stopped dealing the game. I hardly told anyone about the hold-up. First of all I didn't want to freak anybody out. We had a very nice fun crowd of co-eds that visited the house regularly and I knew word of an armed robbery would scare them away. Further, there was no point in making it known. I didn't want the cops getting wind of it, since I was guilty of a punishable crime myself. Also, I didn't want to give anyone else the idea to rip me off. The fact is... I was arrogant and stupid. I should have known better than to walk around with that kind of money. There were hundreds of different people that knew about it, and I wasn't exactly discrete about my success. I learned a valuable lesson that evening.

I would love to end this post right here by writing, "I don't deal blackjack games anymore." But eventually I started the game again. This time it was under more secure conditions. The game was moved to its own room and you had to know somebody to get in. There was some big guys that acted as security and we bought a safe to keep the money locked up. I would just drop by during the day whenever I needed to take money out.

Months later, I was leaving the house in the afternoon, having stopped by to hang out in between classes. I was on my way back to campus when a really clean-cut preppy looking guy walked straight up to me, in broad daylight, and pointed a .22 at my face. "Gimme the money!" Again, I didn't hesitate. I reached into my pocket and gave him the $12 I had in my pocket. It was obvious from the look on his face he was disappointed with the amount, but it seemed he realized his error... and didn't wish to further risk a long prison sentence over $12. He looked around like we was confused. Then he kneed me in the stomach and bolted down the street.

Getting kneed in the stomach really really effing hurts. I couldn't breathe for almost a minute. I made a decision right there, no more blackjack game. Turns out the guy tried to hold up the Citgo station down the street 10 minutes later. He screwed up and got his face all over the surveillance video and was arrested a few days later. I found out he was 16 years old, a local dropout.

I don't deal blackjack games anymore.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ball game

In late August 1998, I packed a few things into my Volkswagen Golf: a duffel bag of clothes, a few CDs and books, and enough money for gas and food to get me from San Diego to Radford, VA. I had about a week before the start of classes at RU, and I planned on making the trek in about 3 or 4 days. I decided to kick off the trip by spending the night in Las Vegas and having a little fun before heading back to school for the fall of my senior year. The next day I would then head down into Arizona and hook up with Interstate 40 in Kingman Arizona, which would take me across nearly the whole of the country en route to Virginia.

I got to Vegas before sundown. I had barely dropped my bag on the bed before I headed off to the MGM Grand. I had an extra $200 that I figured I could afford to lose gambling...and within 20 minutes I had done exactly that. I was shocked at how briefly it lasted. I thought that because I dealt a blackjack game and knew how to count cards that I would automatically win. Turns out it doesn't work that way. Oh well, I got a few drinks out of it at least. After 10 minutes I didn't care. I was 21 years old and reveling in the new freedom to do such things without the worry of using a fake ID. With no more money, I sat in the sports book for a little while and pretended I was sweating a game just to score a few more scotches and beers. But, I knew I had to be on the road early, so I was back in my cheap hotel room before 11. I woke up at about 5 am, and hit the road just before dawn.

US93 brings you over the Colorado river into Arizona by way of the Hoover Dam. This was not the first time I had driven my car over the Dam and I was somewhat surprised by the slow pace of the traffic. I had not expected to run into this many tourists so early in the morning. By the time I made my way up into the hills on the Arizona side, the sun was blaring and the temperature was well above 100 degrees. I cranked the air conditioner on full blast since my shirt was already sticking to me. I was annoyed. Finally the traffic broke and I sped off, eager to get some road behind me. The highway leading down through the hills is two lanes, windy and has some rather steep hills and valleys. At one point, I found myself stuck behind a slow moving 18-wheeler. Passing is allowed, so I pulled into the oncoming lane and saw that it was clear. Just as I was about to overtake him, I noticed that he was speeding up. I heard him down-shift and his engine revved. I looked up and could see that the driver was in the midst of a full on road-rage episode. He was flipping me off and mouthing F bombs. My mouth just dropped open. We crested the top a small hill and started heading downhill. His massive inertia moved him forward faster than my little Volkswagen could muster. I looked down at my speedometer and we were going over 100 mph. When I looked back up at the road, it was too late. I felt the blood leave my face.

Another 18 wheeler was heading straight at me...lights flashing and horn blaring. It was also traveling very fast and heading downhill having just crested a small hill of its own. I glanced back up at the trucker and he was still going nuts. My eyes did the math and quickly gave me the sobering answer. I would not have time to brake and get behind the mad man before the other truck closed the distance. I could not swerve off the road either. It was hundreds of feet down on either side and protected by guard rails. I turned off my AC to free up some horsepower, down-shifted into 3rd gear, and pegged my motor. Too late. I simply wasn't going to make it.

And then.... I felt complete relaxation. The kind when you truly know that there is no point in worrying about what is going to happen, because it is clear, and there is nothing you can do about it. In that split second of my remaining life, I felt truly at peace.

"Ball Game," I said to myself.

I had recalled that phrase from a story my father had told me... about an incident when he had nearly died in traffic accident and uttered those words... a casual acceptance of his fate.

My right side mirror touched the side of the truck as I pulled closer to it. My car buffeted and my steering wheel shook...a result of the hurricane force wind generated by the closing speed of the huge trucks. My windshield cracked. It took me a moment to realize that I wasn't dead. I had passed between them in the center of the road. I took my foot off the gas. The crazy trucker sped down to highway, horn still blaring, as I shifted into neutral and eventually drifted to a stop at a turnout on the side of the road. For another minute or so I still felt strangely calm. The radio was playing Midnight Oil. My coffee was still in the cupholder. A Burger King wrapper lay in the passenger seat next to me.

Then the adrenaline hit me all at once. My muscles tensed and cramped. I opened the drivers side door and emptied the contents of my stomach onto the dirt. It was another 10 minutes before my heart settled down enough, and I regained my thought process. I checked the car for damage. The plastic on the outside of the right side mirror was scuffed. The windshield had a small crack in it. Everything else seemed fine.

I popped in a book on CD. It was "The Lord of the Rings." It was a good one too... with multiple actors doing the different voices and good sound effects. I listened to it for the next two days, finishing it somewhere around Knoxville.

I don't pass 18 wheelers anymore.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ailments. How I got fat. Recoveries. How I got skinny. Aging. How I got hurt.

I don't really remember what month it was, but the year was 2003. I was living in a condo in Carmel Valley with my friends Lee and Kent. Lee had recently been laid off from his job at a data storage company and had decided to venture into business for himself. Lee's initial business idea was to sell brushed aluminum picture frames that he had modified with a bit of hardware so that they created a sort of 3-D montage. Some us wrinkled our foreheads wondering how this was going to be a viable source of income. But he kept at other designs and found a niche designing and manufacturing decorative waterfalls... the kind that you see in the lobbies of restaurants or as accent pieces in living rooms, or elevator alcoves in hotels... etc.

One afternoon I was helping him move one of his very first waterfalls. It was this Goliath creation, that was almost more like an 8 ft tall fish tank. Just as I bent down to begin to lift one end from the bed of his truck... something moved in my lower back. Its hard to describe other than to say it felt like I had been shot. Every nerve and muscle from my neck down to my ankles tensed up and I nearly collapsed, unable to even support my own weight, which was about 170 lbs. at the time. Lee helped me hobble back to the front seat of his car where I sort of crumpled into a pile, and bit down on a rolled up towel to quiet the blood-curdling screams. When I finally got to the ER, x-rays would show that there had been movement of the vertebrae in my lower spine. Basically one of the higher vertebrae had slipped out of place and downward, impinging on the dense network of nerves that attached to muscles throughout my back and legs. They doctor went on to say that this appeared to be the result of a inherited genetic condition where the spinal canal in my lumbar lower vertebrae was smaller than it should be, exacerbating the impingement of the nerves. Lack of exercise had allowed the muscles in the area to become weak, which would normally hold the bone and cartilage in place, but some of the heavy lifting had put enough stress on the spine to move things around a bit. I was immobile for days, while I lay in traction. Traction is a process where a harness is attached to your torso, and another to your hips. Tension is applied to pull the two harness in opposite directions. This tension increases over the course of the treatment. In essence, it stretches you apart, not unlike a medieval torture device called "The Rack". They loaded me up on muscle relaxers and pain meds, and I was able to walk again. Then came the tricky part. There wasn't any real rehab that could be done, because the area was so weak and unstable that even the gentlest movements could cause it to happen all over again. Basically I had to "take it easy" until the ligaments and supporting tissues had time to heal and tighten back up.

So take it easy I did. I basically stopped exercising all together. It wasn't like I really could have anyways, since the radiating pain was basically there every day. I did what I could with lumbar supports while I was driving and sitting. Since I was mostly sedentary anyways, I started playing lots of poker. It fulfilled my need for competition without any physical strain. My eating habits suffered and I gained weight. Over the next few years I ballooned up to 205 lbs and went from a 32 waist to a 38. I was fat and lazy. Much of the pain in my back had subsided, but the habits stayed. Taking good care of health had fallen from the list of priorities. My life had become a sort of mundane routine that I had accepted. Conditions at my job had become intolerable, as the union that represented me was at odds with the company. A full on standoff came about and the tension level that I had to endure every day left me emotionally exhausted when I got home.

In late 2006, I decided to make a change and left Channel 10 to take a job at a new division of Qualcomm as a Satellite Engineer. Shortly afterwards I went through a tough break-up. The stress from changing careers and the depression from the personal issues took a physical toll on me. I lost my appetite and could barely eat. This persisted for weeks. I started to exercise again. The endorphins and associated euphoria I felt after a long run was the only thing that I really looked forward to everyday...so I would run for miles and miles on the treadmill or Eliptical trainer. I lost 40 lbs in less than two months. I started strength training and with the missing weight was able to build up my back muscles in hopes of preventing a recurrence of the injury that started the whole thing. My endurance and stamina increased. I began jogging more regularly. I took up tennis. Fitness became a part of my regular daily routine. By the late part of 2007, I had dropped nearly 60 lbs of fat and gained about 20 lbs of muscle, staying right around 157 lbs with about 9-10% body fat. At 30 years old I was in the best shape of my life... less than one year after being in the worst shape of my life.

In 2008, I ran in a 10k at Camp Pendleton. Somewhere in the middle of the course I tweaked my knee. By the end of the race it was throbbing. I stayed off it for weeks before trying to jog again. A few miles in I began to feel the pressure build up. I stayed off it for a long time... before very slowly starting to integrate jogging back into my fitness routine... but I was always cognizant of the problems my right knee seemed to give me when I ran long distances. In 2010, I ran in the San Diego Rock n Roll Half Marathon. Around mile 2 I started feeling the pressure in the knee... much earlier than usual. By mile 7 I could not continue and had to drop out. The swelling was worse than it had ever been and I could see the pocket of fluid that had built up on the outside part of me knee. The pain subsided in a day or so, but there is a lingering tenderness there even now that is new. I don't generally have any problems when playing tennis or soccer, but I feel small twinges of stiffness from time to time. I had x-rays taken the other day, which might not show anything at all. Its likely I will need an MRI to see if there is any damage to the ligament or muscles in the knee. If so, its likely I will undergo a common arthroscopic surgery to repair the ligament or clean the cartilage. I have been told the recovery time is short and that I should be back out playing sports in a couple of months. Friends that have had the surgery say that their knees felt better than ever afterwards.

Next on the docket is the localized pain that I am feeling in my lower back. It is far different from the pain associated with the injury 7 years ago. There is a persisting an acute pain on a specific point on my spine. I can feel it on the bone itself. Of course the orthopedist will only "treat one injury at a time" so as to get paid for the most office visits. Same for the radiology and why I have to pay for x-rays in cases where its very likely an MRI will be needed. It could be lots of different things... so no freaking out just yet.