September 29, 2008

Running as fast as I can to stay in the same place.

Whew! I think I spoke too soon when I said that the weekend seemed to be busier than the weekdays. When I made that statement I had not yet stepped into the current week which kept me running pretty much every day. following is an update on the weekend, I'll catch up on the week later.

We never did make it to the Roxbury Day celebration on Saturday, there was just too damn much going on. Some how we did manage to fit almost everything else in except cleaning the bathrooms. If I am going to be taking karate, I have to fit that into the weekend schedule somewhere else. I can tolerate a messy house to a degree, but a foul bathroom just makes my skin crawl. For those who don’t know, the usual Saturday routine is for Mrs. to take the boy to karate, leaving the house about 10:30 on Saturday morning and returning about 12:30. During that time I have usually gotten 2 load of laundry done and cleaned the kitchen and the bathrooms up stairs and downstairs. No more, we now leave the house at 9:20 and don’t get back ‘til 112:30. Time to figure out a new routine.

Karate was fun. Including the Mrs. and me there is a total of eight parents taking the class. There is one other woman and most of the men are a good 10 or more years younger than I am. But I am by far not the least fit among them. Never the less, I felt like a total klutz, mixing my left and my right and not being able to repeat a simple move more than a couple times in a row. It didn’t help that just across the gym from were we having class, there was a gaggle of 7-year old beginners who were jumping and leaping about with wild abandon. And then there was our son the brown belt who sat in a corner smirked at us the entire class. I was hoping that he would assist the other teachers with the beginning group, but he chose to smirk instead. We made it through the class with out suffering too much embarrassment. It will be interesting to see if everyone returns next week.

Following a quick trip home for a change of clothes, Mrs. had a dentist appointment, she is having crowns put on her front teeth as she damaged the enamel a number of years ago, and it was decide it was time to take the plunge and have them done. The appointment took about 2 hours and she leaf the office with a pair of temporary crowns that made here very self-conscious. The permanent crowns are not due for a couple of weeks. I don’t think that we are going to see her smiling much in the interim.

Smiling pot luck faces

Finally sometime around 3 we made it up to the potluck at the community garden. We didn’t bring a dish to share, as I had done a Costco run the day before to purchase paper plate, cup and a mountain of frozen hamburgers and hotdogs. It was a nice gathering and the food was great. We chatted most of the rest of the day away with old friend, met some new friends and generally had a great time. We spent a little time harvesting what was left in our meager plot, while making a vow with our neighbors with whom we share the plot to ‘really plan it right’ next year. We shall see, the road to hell etc.
We got home around dusk and spent the rest of the evening doing pretty much nothing.

Sunday we did manage to make it to the local pow wow at the Indian center. It was actually the first one we have gone to this year. Between bad weather and the cost of gasoline, we just didn’t get out. As I mentioned before this event is more like a neighborhood pow wow that anything. And much like the previous days pot luck it was very much a gathering of friends. More than any other pow wow we attend this is about spending time with friends. We know all the dancers, drummer and vendors, and at one point we were recruited by one vendor to watch is stand while he went up and sang a few traditional songs. It was a most pleasant afternoon, the weather was beautiful the drumming good and the singing better. We didn’t spend money like we often do. Mrs. bought a nice wampum ring from our vendor/artist friend. Another vendor artist / vendor was teasing Mrs. showing her all kinds of wonderful stones that he had, when she offered to buy one that really was speaking to her, he told her is wasn’t for sale, the cheek. She did happen to have one of her latest project with her and showed him the kind of work she does, and he was mightily impressed. It was a nice moment.

So that was last weekend.. As I said, I had little idea what the week had in store. I’ll try to catch up on the highlights of the week in the next couple of days.

Busted, I didn't think he saw me taking the picture..

September 20, 2008

Another Typical Weekend ahead

For some reason the weekends here seems to be busier than the weekdays. Beyond the usual chores of shopping laundry and general house cleaning, and of course the boy’s karate class, we seems to have any number of social/ cultural events to attend every weekend. This weekend is no exception with a pot luck picnic at the community garden up the hill above us, Roxbury Day Celebration at the park down the street from us and a pow wow at the Boston Indian center a couple miles away. Oh yes and there is a dentist appointment for at least one of us. I don’t see much time in there for chores and errands.

Did I mention that the Mrs. and I are starting karate this week? Due to popular demand, the dojo that is dedicated to teaching ‘Kid’s Karate’ is now offering a ‘parents’ karate for interested parents. I guess it was a natural that we take it. I am at a distinct disadvantage here, the boys mother has been taking to karate for the most part over the years, while I stay home and do chores, which means that she has a pretty good idea of all the move, while I have none. Additionally, I am 10 years older that her, but, and this is a small, but I am naturally much more flexible that either her or the boy. We shall see how this works out, but I am hoping that it is going to be fun and that the boy who is now a brown belt will not abuse us too much for our lack of ability.

The potluck begins in the middle afternoon today at the Cooper Community Center up the street. The gardens were laid in over 30 years ago on vacant lots during Roxbury’s dark days, and the community center grew up as part of that. It is now the neighborhood social center as well as the sight of many beautiful vegetable and flower gardens all maintained by neighbors. We share a plot with one of our neighbors and are frequent attendees at community meetings that take place at the center. I also have boxes full of supplies and food for the event in the basement, so there is no question that we are attending that.

The Roxbury Day celebration is taking place down at the end of the block at the Roxbury Heritage Park and the Dillaway Thomas house. It is a two-fold celebration; one for Roxbury’s role in the revolutionary war particularly during the siege of Boston in 1776, where forts at the top of the hill and what is now the Heritage Park we important in convincing the British to evacuate the city, giving Boston one more of it’s own holidays, Evacuation Day of course. The Dillaway-Thomas house built in 1745, served as the military headquarter during the siege. The second part of the celebrations is to celebrate Roxbury as the center of Boston’s African American community. Roxbury has always had a black population dating back to civil war times when it was a hotbed of abolitionist activity. Starting in the early 20th century it became a Mecca for black intellectuals and working class people. Redlining and racism beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s ghettoized the neighborhood and turned it into a slum of vacant lots and burned out buildings by the 1980s. It was with the help of a dedicated community that it has been able to bring itself back from the edge of oblivion. That is worthy of a celebration.

The Dillaway-Thomas taken in the 1940's

The pow wow which takes place both Saturday and Sunday is the annual gathering of the Native American Community in Boston This is a pretty disparate group comprised of mostly urban Indians from all over the country. Because if this and the small Native population in Boston, it is more like a family reunion that the bigger pow wows that take place in the more rural communities. We have not pow wowed much this year for a variety of reasons, so it is all the more important to attend this one.

September 17, 2008

Transitions of a sort

It is the season of changes and transitions. The most notable of which is of course school starting. At the university where I work, classes have been in session now for a couple of weeks and everything has fallen into the routine that will prevail for most of the term. The couple of weeks before their return was a frantic time while preparation were being made all over campus. As a result, the place looks better than it does at almost any time of the year, as the grounds are beautifully manicured and the building are fresh and clean and all the new equipment is in the classrooms. This year the campus art gallery down the hall mounted a larger than usual exhibit that filled the lobby in part. Called Paratrooper II, it makes a pretty bold statement and fills the entire lobby of the art gallery. One of the little benefits of working in the building that I do, is that I get to enjoy and ever changing displays of art.

Speaking of ‘art’, I am now back to riding the subway to work everyday, and much to my delight, one of the mural teams has done a number on the my local subway station. That station was built in the early 1980’s and is of what might best be called fortress style architecture; brick and concrete. It is a functional but not particularly welcoming building. The last time I had take the ‘T’ there was a crew painting over some of the concrete surfaces out front. The walls having been the victim of graffiti in the past, I assumed that this was just an attempt to give the walls a more easily cleaned surface. It was a nice surprise to return to find those walls decorated with murals of local scenes. There is a folk-art quality to them, but it makes them all the more charming.
The mural crew is a summer job project that hires high school and college students who design and paint the murals. Surprisingly, the so-called graffiti artists don’t tag over the murals. There are a couple of murals in the neighborhood that have lasted for almost 20 years without being defaced.

As other transitions go, the boy finally started school last week. His start had been delayed a week because of construction at his school. There was almost a month between his last day of summer program and the start of school. That was a burden. The Mrs. and I were taking turns bringing him to work with us, and then letting him stay home by himself occasionally. It was a great relief to get him back in school. He was not so excited as us; resigned is more the case, but at the same time he is seems interested in his classes. He was particularly please that he made it into jazz band where he will be playing guitar. This will be interesting, he doesn’t know much if anything about jazz at all we listen to lots of music in the house, but jazz is not high on the list. Additionally, his guitar training has been almost exclusively classical, although he has done a lot of ensemble work, so it will be interesting to see how he integrates into the group. I think it will be good growth experience for him. I think I will sneak Mingus, Parker and Django onto his iPod.

He is doing drama again as his after school project. They are doing ‘Into the Woods this term. It is a special reduced script for school, which is mostly just the first act. It turns out that he is the only boy so far. He has yet to have a big role in play, so this will be a big challenge for him. There are a couple of roles that he could do the largest is that of the narrator, which doesn’t require any singing. I am not sure that he is ready to sing solo in public. But we shall see. He does seem to have some acting ability. I was surprised and pleased with his performance in Harriet the Spy last spring, he had a small role, but had two little solo scenes down front center, and he was really into the moment and brought the audience with him. I am excited to see what he can do this time.

And further transitions, the boy now 13, is now becoming somewhat fashion conscious, at least to the degree that he concerned about his ‘look’. In the past he was happy with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt the latter of which he has possibly100. He has taken a liking to shirts with actually collars and buttons on them. Since we hadn’t really invested in any new school clothes, he and his mother took a trip to Target and picked out a half dozen button down shirts and some new jeans and he seems quite pleased. If he gets too fussy about his ‘look’ I may have to teach him how to iron his own shirts. So far he doesn’t really seem to care if he wears them wrinkled, but the sleeves do have to be rolled up to just the right length. I think this is another rite of passage.

And speaking of rites of passage, while us no-churchgoing heathens don’t have any bona-fide rite of passage, many of his classmates do. And he attended another one this past weekend; a Bat Mitzvah party, and in the great tradition, this one was another big blow out. It the Hard Rock Café located downtown at Quincy Market, which had been closed for he evening for that event. It seems that is his classmate is the daughter of one of the members of that venerable Boston band Aerosmith. For all I know, he may be one of the partners in the Hard Rock Café, but certainly with Aerosmith’s renewed popularity in part due to them having their own version of Guitar Hero, I am sure that they could afford to rent the restaurant for the evening. I have not met the girl’s father, and I must admit that I was never an Aerosmith fan, and I would be hard pressed to name any of their songs. So in one way I was relieved to not run into him that evening. We did have a nice chat with the girl’s mother when we dropped the boy at the party. We hung around the area and had dinner and a few drinks while he was partying, and picked him up when it was over at 10:30. He was wiped out when we arrived, (I understand that he is quite the dancer), he was barely able to stay awake on the subway ride home, and he fell into bed, and slept for 10 hours.

We were not quite so lucky in the sleep department. About 2:30 am we were awakened by some commotion on the street. A couple of cars were parked across the street and the occupants, two couples and a couple others were having a loud conversation, laughing and arguing. Hoping it would subside shortly, I was dismayed as more cars arrived and more people were gathering on the sidewalks laughing and shouting. It seems that some one in the neighborhood had decided to have an after-hours party, but the guest arrived before the party giver did. Not in any frame of mind to confront 12 or 15 people on the street and now nearly 3am, I called 911. The police arrived shortly, and quieted people down, but didn’t really do anything to disperse what was by now a gathering of 6 or 8 cars and more than 20 people. Eventually either the party giver finally arrived and the crowd dispersed, or I fell asleep out of exhaustion, or both, but I was pretty cranky the next day. Ah, the joys of living in the city.

September 9, 2008

a Time of the Season

There are certain signs that indicate a change in season or time of the year. Around our house, one of them is the cats staring intently under the stove. That is a sure sign the autumn is around the corner because the mice are trying to move in doors. Ginny in particular will sit and stare for hours. I had been noticing this behavior for several days, when at a community meeting one of our neighbors asked it we had been having any mouse problems because she was having a mini invasion. I related the story of the cats staring under the stove speculating that yes we too must have them even though they hadn’t shown themselves to me. Last winter we had a mouse invasion about this time, a number of them dining on packages of instant oatmeal in the pantry closet before we caught on and set a couple traps. Between the traps and the cats I think we scored 5 mice last year. When I returned home after the meeting I checked a trap that I leave in the pantry just as a matter of principle, and sure enough there was a desiccated mouse ensnared. It had been there for more than a few days, and required tossing carcass and trap as one unit. Since then I have not trapped another mouse, the instant oatmeal is intact, and the cats have not captured any and their vigils at the stove have stopped. That must mean that mouse season is over.

As a little postscript, the meeting was to get the neighborhood behind a proposal to upgrade a little pocket park that is up the block. The park has been there since the 1870’s but in the most recent configuration dating from the 1970’s is best described as ‘barrier construction’ of low concrete walls and short pilasters, it has been long neglected and is hardly inviting. There are funds available for upgrading and this was a meeting to discuss how to get some of those funds. The guy who organized the meeting and is the force behind the project had brought some visual aids among them were plans that the Olmsted Brothers had originally done of the park and a page out of the city atlas from 1873, that showed the park, then known as Lewis Park but now known as Kitteredge Park. But most notable to me down two blocks from the park and pictured on the atlas was the plan of our house. I have never been sure how old our house is. I have a page from an 1890 Atlas that shows it, I have speculated that it could date as early as 1875, from when the neighborhood was first being built up, but this is the first time that had seen evidence that my suspicions might be true.

Lastly, another sign of seasonal changes is the guilt I feel each year towards the end of summer when I realize that the road to hell has again been paved with all the intentions of the projects I was going to accomplish over the summer. I will not enumerate them her, as it will only make me feel worse. It struck me bad the other day and I did manage to sand and varnish the front door, a task that need to be done at least every 2 years. So a few hours of sanding and polishing later I was feeling better there are just the other dozen jobs now.

But at least this gives me a picture to post: a street view of the front door ..

September 3, 2008

Into the Beast of the Belly

I just spent last Friday night in the emergency room of one of Boston’s biggest and most popular hospitals. Actually I spent more than just the night, it was more like an afternoon a night and a good portion of the next day. I checked in at about 2:30 in the afternoon and did not escape again until 1:00 on Saturday. It was an experience to say the least.

I suppose a little background is in order. Periodically I get attacks of what I call killer heartburn, which involves rather intense chest pain in my left shoulder, back, and arm. The symptoms can mimic a heart attack; it is occasional and intermittent but can last for a few minutes to a few hours. It has bothered me on and off since my early 20’s and I have a few techniques and medication to deal with it. Lately it has flared up again with the added symptoms of sweats, nausea and shortness of breath. This really scared the crap out of me, and added anxiety as another symptom! After suffering thru a few hours of this Thursday night that the usual remedies didn’t seem to cure, and then having another ‘attack’ on Friday morning at work, I called my Dr. He felt that he couldn’t get a cardiologist to see me so suggested that I go to the emergency room. Fortunately Mrs. had a half-day at work, so I drove home and she drove me to the hospital, which is located a short distance from the house.

And so the adventure begins.

Stepping up to the desk in the emergency room and saying ‘chest pain’ immediately whips them into action. Within a moment or two I was lead to an examination room for a brief interview, electrodes were pasted to my chest, (these resembled little snaps backed with foam adhesive tape) and I was connected to an EKG machine. A few beeps and printer output followed, and in a few more minutes the results were determined to be ‘normal’, meaning that I wasn’t in the midst of a heart attack. Still concerned about the chest pain, which it was felt might be related to a heart problem, it was decided that I should be sent to the emergency suite. With that I was escorted thru the big double doors to the other side of ‘emergency’ and because all of the examination bays were full I was directed to lie on a gurney along the wall. I was again instructed to remove my shirt and once more my electrodes were connected to a heart monitor. Little did I know that I would not be free of that tether for many hours. Over the next hour or two a couple of doctors and numerous nurses stopped by to check on me talk to me and generally take my medical history. Mrs., who was still in the emergency room lobby and I were texting back and forth on our cell phones as I appraised her of the developments. Eventually they allowed her to join me in the back.

At one point a nurse came up and inserted an IV in the back of my hand. Remembering what a friend had told me years ago, ‘once they get an IV in you. You know they are gonna keep you over night.’ I figured my fate was sealed. I was thankful for it on one level, as they seemed to need blood samples from me on an hourly basis, and it beat the hell out of having needles stuck in one each time. Following one of the blood taking episodes the nurse asked me if I was in pain. Feeling a slight stabbing pain in my side, which may have been the result of sitting oddly on the gurney, I said 'Yes. a little'. With that he promptly dosed me with morphine, saying something the effect of ‘We want to dull those pain receptors.’ It wasn’t a big dose, and it gave me a nice buzz and nicely took care of any pain I was feeling, physical and emotional.

Doctors continued to come and look at my chart and one decided that an ultra sound of my heart was in order, I think as much as there was an ultra sound machine parked next to me. That required removing two of the electrodes firmly glued to the center of my chest along with them went tufts of chest hair. After he ultrasounded me for a few minutes, he said ‘Well I was just taking a look, this isn’t an official ultrasound or anything.’ He instructed a nurse to paste two more electrodes to my chest and wire me up again. He then walked off, and that was the last that I would see of him. Some time later another doctor or nurse or physicians assistant came by looked at my charts asked a few more questions and said I think we want to keep you over night for ‘observation’ and then have you take a stress test in the morning.

With that they found me a room in ‘observation’ and wheeled me over. I got situated on the bed and they once more reconnected me to the heart monitor. I settled in, fortunately I had my iPod and I had brought a book with me, knowing from experience having taken others to emergency that the stays can be long. I ordered food and settled in, tethered as I was to the heart monitor I wasn’t really going anywhere. Mrs. kept me company for a couple hours until it was time for her to go and tend to the boy. He was not please that I would be spending the night in the hospital, and I assured him that I was ok, but they were just wanting to check on me for a while.

The ‘observation’ area consisted of a dozen or so patient bays around a central nurse / doctor station. There is a constant buzz of activity as patients are coming and going. The medical staff is in constant motion as well, and the lights are always on. Trying to sleep with all that activity going on was like sleeping on someone’s sofa while the whole family is going about their everyday business. I read until late in to the night, with the nurses stopping in every so often the check my vitals and take blood. It was well after 1:00am before I fell asleep and even at that is was fitful sleep, and the monitor wire prevented me from really moving about on the bed. Morning finally came around; I pretty much finished my book, and heard almost every tune on the iPod. Contrary to the evening before it seemed that the nursing staff was ignoring me. It seems the call button had not been connected when they put me in my bay, and had drawn a curtain in front of the bay sometime overnight. Finally hollering from my bed I got a nurses attention so I could get some food and a restroom break.

Eventually they informed me that I would be ‘going upstairs’ for a stress test, and a three young women with a wheel chair disconnected the wires one more time and wheeled me thru the labyrinth of halls and elevators, ‘under the street’ and up in the ‘tower’. Upon arrival, One more time the electrodes were removed from my chest, taking with them more chest hair, and a new set were attached to me, this time at least they shaved the really hair parts. And this time even more wires were attached to those. They terminated in a sort of fanny pack affair that fit around my waist, and from that one lead went to a computer that was also connected to a treadmill. After the now usual ‘5 minute’ wait that turns in to 20, I climbed on to the treadmill for my test. For the test they work in 3-minute increments, increasing the speed each time, taking ones blood pressure while monitoring the heart on the EKG. The first setting was a moderate walking pace, certainly no slower than I usually walk, and while my heart rate went up, I didn’t break sweat. The next segment was a very brisk walk, when asked to rate my exertion on a scale from one to ten, I gave it about 4.5 to 5, I was working harder and starting to sweat. The third setting was a very brisk walk, but I felt fine, I dropped my breathing into my full chest, and walked on and my heart rate was up to 172 bmp, I was ready for the next increment, and they shut me down! ‘Wow, you did great! My thought was, ‘That was it? Gimme the next 3 minutes, I got more in me.” Instead, they made me lay down on a cot, no walking it off; they wanted to monitor my heart as it returned to it’s resting rate. That resulted in a headache, but other than that I felt fine. Once I was cooled down and the wires again disconnected, the three young women returned with wheelchair and trundled me back to my bay in ‘obs’. Within 15 minutes of returning they told me I could get dressed, and a physicians assistant came in and said “You can go, your heart is fine, but talk to your Dr about treatment for GERD.” (Gastro esophageal reflux disease.)

Needless to say, I was out of there like a shot. I called the Mrs. while buttoning my shirt and she was there in the car at the curb waiting as I walked out. When we arrived home I pored myself a nice hot cup of coffee, something that I had been denied at the hospital, and hopped into the shower. But not before pulling off that last batch of electrodes, along with even more chest hair.

It made for an interesting 24 hours. This was the first time that I have spent any time in hospital except for having my tonsils out when I was 6, and I am of mixed feelings about the experience. The medical staff were all very thorough, and generally concerned about my health and comfort. They were not always good about communicating to me what they were thinking and the reasons for doing some of the procedures however. I am relieved to know that my heart is healthy, and I will be contacting my Dr to seek treatment for the GERD. Just knowing what it is though is a relief.

Now if I can just get the adhesive from those electrodes off my chest and stomach, it has been 4 days and as many showers; tenacious stuff.