My Biggest Poker Win Ever

A couple of weeks ago I played in a poker tournament at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Zionsville. It was my second biggest live poker tournament winning ever. I promised my friends on Facebook I would write a blog entry telling more about the event. I’m just now getting around to doing that.

I think this was the fourth tournament I played at that church. My friend Jack Brake goes to that church. The tournament director a guy named Gil Keller also frequented the St. Gabriel poker tournaments and is a really great guy. He also plays that Jack’s home game which I’ve been to a few times.

St. Alphonsus has a very large complex of buildings on them quite beautiful. I’m not been inside their actual church but considering the quality of their parish hall send other facilities my guess is it’s gorgeous. The parish hall we played him look like it might’ve been a chapel or sanctuary that had been converted to use as a hall. They have a large video projector screen and a pair of 2 large flatscreen TVs. Gil hooks up his laptop to the screen to display the time left in each blind level. He has a really nice app that he can program in all the details of each level. It also tracks the number of players remaining in a number of rebuys so that it can report the average chip stack size. I found myself looking at that number frequently to see where I stood in relationship to the field.

The buy-in was $50 which got you 20,000 chips. Blinds started out 100-200. You are also allowed to rebuy to bust out before the first break. Each blind level is 20 minutes and the break was after the fifth level. A rebuy would be $50. After the first break, anyone could do an ad on for an additional $50 for 20,000 chips or half of an add-on $25 for 10,000 chips. They had 33 players on the one guy didn’t show up so they put his chips in play and posted his blinds until the first break. He never did show so they removed his chips at the break.

I had a reasonably good hand the first hand of the game. I forget what it was but it was a face card with a decent kicker and the opportunity to play the first hand was irresistible. I think I ended up with a pair of Kings that ran into three of a kind. It was disappointing to have a decent hand right off the bat and get beat. It was a sign of things to come. The entire first four levels of the tournament I did not win a single hand. Most of the time I would get marginal hands out of position. Of course every time I would limp in, someone would come over the top. I basically sat there for the first hour and a half and watched my chips dwindle away.

As we got closer to the break in the end of the period in which you could rebuy I decided to play a little bit looser having already made up my mind that I was probably going to have to rebuy or with a big pot if I was going to be any kind of competitive for the rest of the game. Late in the fourth level I went all in and lost and is the rebuy. That meant I now had $100 in the game. That’s what I plan to put in because I expected I would do the initial $50 plus the add-on for $50. I only had $140 with me and I had already spent $5 on a 50/50 drawing. If I was like to do an add-on it was going to have to be the half add-on for $25. By the way I really like the idea of having an option to do the half add-on. Even if I hadn’t already done the rebuy and been short on cash, I might only done the half add-on.

The very first hand after the add-on I got in a very big pot against three other players. One of them was all in and the other two we checked down the remaining cards. I ended up winning the entire pot and although I didn’t count the chips completely, it was very nearly a double up for me. So in two hands I went from being nearly out of the tournament to having almost double the starting chip size.

Since I had won that big pot, I considered not doing the add-on but in the end I decided to do the half add-on anyway. That meant my total investment was now up to $125. At that point they were introducing a new red chip that was worth 10,000. Most of the people who did the add-on got 2 red chips. When I sent my dad up to the chip table to buy my add-on, I expected him to come back with one red chip. Instead he came back with five yellow ones which were worth 5000 each. They had given him 2 ½ times more chips than they should have. I thought about just keeping my mouth shut and I would like to say that it was my sense of honesty that prompted me to speak up but that really wasn’t it so much. I was more concerned that other players were similarly getting the wrong amount of chips. In the end I did tell him that give me the wrong amount and I gave back the extra chips.

From there on out I just took it easy and picked my spots carefully. It was clear that many of the players were staying on marginal hands. That told me that the right strategy was to wait for a premium hand and let them go at it with their marginal hands. If I would happen to catch a flop on a good hand I would be able to take them big. Because I was playing only a few hands, I think I developed a reputation for only playing premium hands which was in part true. But on a couple of occasions when I missed the flop or perhaps played position and really didn’t have much, I was able to bluff my way to winning a few pots that were total bluffs.

There was a guy sitting to players to my right played a lot of pots and won a lot of chips. He knocked out several players and had amassed quite a big stack. As I looked around the table I could see I was doing okay compared to the other players and I was maintaining average or better stack size according to the big screens. But I really wondered how things were going at the other tables.

We were playing about eight players per table on average. However when it got down to two tables they decided not to merge to a final table until there were actually eight players. Most tournaments I’ve managed and most that I’ve played in add an extra player for the final table. Even the World Series of Poker Main event which plays nine players per table, merges to a single table when there are just 10 players remaining. They don’t call that 10th place player a member of the “final table” even though he does sit at the final table. It was really rough playing with just four players while we waited for the ninth place player to go out at the other table of five. I’m going to have to recommend to Gil that next year the go-ahead and put nine or 10 players at the final table.

When we finally merged to the final table I was pretty proud of myself for making it that far the second year in a row. Last year I think I went out eighth but they only paid five or six places. This year they were going to pay six places however sixth was only going to get $40. Fifth was $90. For someone who only did the initial $50 entry, at least they got some money back for sixth place and would possibly turn a profit at fifth. But considering I had $125 invested I knew I was going to have to get to at least fourth to get in the black.

We had about three minutes left in the level when we merged to the final table. We took a break after that and they did a color up of chips. Someone use the phrase “chip up” and so I got on my soap box and started preaching. There had been a running joke going around the table about people whining about how poorly they had been doing. I said to the group “It’s my turn to start whining”. I wasn’t whining about how I was doing in the tournament. I was whining about the misuse of language. I explained to the group that this was a pet peeve of mine. Technically “chip up” is a process where you win a series of pots and gradually build your stack of chips. What we were doing was called “color up”. That’s where you trade in your low value chips of one particular color that are no longer needed for chips of a higher value and different color. But I hear people call “color up” by the term “chip up” frequently and it really bugs me.

Among the chips that were added with a new 25,000 chip that is a rectangular plaque like the ones that they use in European casinos. We all joked about how we felt like we were James Bond playing Bacharach against an evil villain. It was kind of fun to have these unusual chips in your stack even though after the color up I only had one of them. The guy who was sitting to places to my right had about five or six. The advantage to color up is it makes it easier to see the relative stack size of each player. Amateur players don’t always keep their chips very well organized and do not keep them in easily countable stacks. At this point it was easy to work around and just look at the number of 25,000 plaques each player has to judge their stack size. I turned to my dad and said “can you believe it? It looks as though I’m currently in third place!” Considering that I didn’t win a single hand for the first 100 minutes or so and it had to do the rebuy, it was amazing enough that I made it to the final eight but to be sitting third at that point was just unbelievable. Dad reminded me that in fact I was really only in eighth place. The way that game goes, you could get kicked out at any minute.

Considering the size of the stack that the one guy had with his six or seven 25,000 plaques, I think we all figured that he had the win tied up we were all playing for second place. The problem was his strategy was a mess. He had been bullying people because he had such a big stack and it had been working. But now rather than going after the shortest stacks, he was going after the larger ones. Because the blinds were so big and he was playing so loose that whenever he would lose it would cost him 10% -15% of his stack or more. Of course some people were going all in with a short stack because they didn’t have any other choice and he would call because he figured they didn’t have much. Occasionally they would double up and that would cut his stack even more.

I tried to lay low as I could because I needed to make it into the money. When we finally got down to sixth place I was still in third or fourth. At one point I ended up all in against one of the other shorter stacks. I barely had him covered. It was classic coin flip where I had a small pair and he had two over cards. The odds of winning one of those are about 50-50 so that’s why they call it a coin flip. I ended up winning that one which kept me alive a little bit longer. As I saw the guy with the big stack begin to lose his and the guy who had been in second place take over the lead I realize that those two weren’t afraid to go at each other. That really worked to my advantage so I picked my time when to get involved. Once I got down to fourth place I don’t recall what it paid but it was more than the $125 that I had invested. I was so happy to be that far along I didn’t really care what happened after that.

When we got down to just three players I turned to dad and said “I told you I was in third place”. He said “you can say that now that you couldn’t say it before. You could have just as easily gone out in eighth”. Of course he was right. The guy who had had the big lead at one point probably had more chips than all of the other players combined. Now he had about half the stack of the new chip leader. I just let them go at it and occasionally picked up some blinds when I had position. I knew the two big stacks would go at each other and eventually they did. The guy with the big stack was gone in third place. If he played a little bit smarter he could’ve won the whole thing. That left me heads up against a really smart player. He had about a 10 to 1 lead over me. We’ve been playing over four hours and were both very tired. He had indicated he might make some sort of deal which I probably should’ve taken. I doubt he was going to take first and second place money combined and split it even with me but he might’ve given me more than I would’ve gotten for second place on my own. But it’s pretty rare to get a chance to play heads-up for good money and I asked him if we could just go ahead with it for a few more hands. “I’m probably going to go all in pretty soon here to see if I can double up. If I don’t it will all be over. Let’s given a few hands.” He agreed.

Sure enough a few hands later I caught a couple good cards and pushed. He called and caught a pair on the flop. I never did improve and it was all over. Second-place paid $460. Subtracting out the $125 that I had invested gave me a profit of $335. That doesn’t include the $5 I spent on the 50-50 drawing. I count that as separate. First place paid $740. I don’t know if he did rebuy or add on. My guess is he did the initial $50 plus a $50 add-on. I don’t think he did a rebuy.

Overall I had a great time. And winning my second biggest live tournament ever made it even better. For the record my biggest live win ever was at a tournament at brother-in-law Joe’s club that he belongs to in Danville. They had 64 players paid $50 each and I got second place which was $650 total or $600 net. My biggest win anywhere was a limit hold‘em game on Poker Stars. It was a $5 entry against about 4000 players. It took about five hours to play. I got first place which was about $545. Although that was less than the $650 that I made in that other live tournament, I still consider it my biggest win as a percentage.

50 Years Ago Today

Shortly after Kennedy died, people begin saying “We will always remember where we were when we heard the president was dead.” I suppose my grandparents generation the “where was I when it happened” event was Pearl Harbor. For my parents and I it was JFK assassination or perhaps for my generation that was either RFK, MLK or the moon landing that classified as the “where were you” event. We have to suppose that 9/11 is the latest in a series of these life-changing historical moments.

I was in the third grade in James E Robert School IPS #97. Every year the PTA had a fundraiser cookie sale where the kids would sell cookies to raise money for the PTA that then purchased equipment needed by the school. Most of it was wheelchairs. After each annual cookie sale the PTA would throw away “Thank You Party” for all the students. My mom was the PTA room mother for the third grade. My teacher was the much beloved Clara Rose Holmes. Someone came into the room and talk to one of the other adults either my mom or the teacher and it was obvious they were pretty upset about something. There were probably other parents there is room mothers for the other classrooms that day. We didn’t have a TV set in any of the rooms but we had a radio and someone turned it on. The adults were all intensely listening to the news reports.

At one point the kids were told that the president “got shot in Dallas”. I thought he had been given an injection of some kind. I couldn’t figure out why he had to go all the way to Dallas Texas just to get an inoculation. “Don’t they have doctors in Washington DC that could have given him a shot?” At some point someone finally explained to me he was shot with a gun and eventually confirmation came through that he really was dead.

Mom had brought me up to be a political junkie. We watched The Today Show every morning religiously. It was a practice she continued to her final days. She was watching The Today Show on 9/11 and woke me up shortly after the first plane hit. I was watching in time to see the second one hit live. Anyway back to ’63… We were lifelong Democrats and Catholic as well so Kennedy’s election was a big deal in our house. She had made sure even at age 6 or so that I appreciated the significance of a Catholic president. I remember the stern look on her face watching The Today Show during the Cuban missile crisis. I distinctly remember asking “Mommy what is a blockade?” So although I was taking lots of cues from her reaction to the days events, I’d like to think of myself as being a reasonably politically savvy little eight-year-old who knew that this was a very big deal.

Being big fans of the Kennedy family and people who appreciate good comedy, we had a copy of the best-selling comedy album “The First Family” by comedian Vaughn Meader in which a comedy troupe put on sketches with spot on impersonations of the Kennedy family. My favorite little clip from the album was an argument over toys used in the Kennedy bathtub. They included an entire flotilla of battleships, submarines, cruisers, and a rubber duck belonging to the president. Another favorite clip simply said “Go to the polls and vote. Vote for the Kennedy of your choice but to vote!”

Rather than ride the bus home that day, mom drove me home. I remember as we got in the car I said to her “I guess we can go home and throw away the First Family Album. Nobody will ever want to laugh about the president again.”

Looking back on those sketches 50 years later I guess I can laugh a little bit and I’m not alone. A quick search of shows that last year they released a 50th anniversary edition of the album. I actually bought it on CD a few years ago from Amazon along with some other vintage comedy items like Spike Jones and Alan Sherman.

Being a huge fan of the American space program also may be an even bigger fan of Kennedy and his pledge to get us to the moon. It always sort of pissed me off that the plaques on the lunar modules at the name Richard Nixon on them. All of the things I would’ve liked Kennedy to live to do, my biggest sorrow is that he did not live to see the moon landing pledge fulfilled.

I watched TV continuously with my mom over the next several days. I saw Oswald shot live on TV. I saw the famous salute by John John. I watched it all. I did think it was a little bit arrogant that the torch they let at his gravesite was called “Eternal Flame”. Both the scientist in the theologian in me take the word “eternal” quite literally. The sci-fi fan in me hopes that someday we colonize other worlds. If that dream comes true it will be because Kennedy put us on the first step of that journey. That will be his eternal legacy. Not some propane torch buried in the ground.

4 Days in the Hospital Without Wi-Fi

As many of you know I spent four days this week at St. Vincent Hospital with an extremely nasty urinary infection. I knew the mild one every six or eight months. Usually I just did a little stinging sensation and I know that one is coming on. Dad takes a sample up to my urologist office. He writes me a prescription. And everything goes okay.

(Spoiler alert: there may be some TMI too much information contained in the rest of this blog entry.)

This one snuck up on me very hard and very fast. I did feel a pretty nasty sting when I went shortly after dinner Monday night. I was feeling worse and worse throughout the evening. I went to bed about 10 PM and took some Tylenol just because I wasn’t feeling too good. It didn’t take long to realize I was getting very nasty chills. I ended up coming up with multiple extra blankets and still shaking very bad. When we took my temperature it was a whopping 103.6. I don’t ever recall having a temperature that high.

I probably should’ve gone to the hospital that night but I was feeling so awful and it was just so comfy all snuggled up in all those blankets. I just didn’t feel like moving at all.

The Tylenol brought the fever down a little bit but it was still pretty high. At 2 AM I took another dose and it eventually came down.

The next morning it was at about 100 even. My caregiver Rick showed up at 10 AM like always. I decided to go ahead and get dressed and have dad take me to the ER. For some reason I was having difficulty swallowing. I had really nasty nausea and dry heaves. I knew that even if I got an antibiotic it was laundry hard to swallow and I needed to drink lots of fluids at this point I just couldn’t see that happening the way I felt. I was definitely going to need IV fluids and probably IV antibiotic. I was a little bit embarrassed that I had not gone to the hospital the night before.

Once I was up and dressed I had Rick back my laptop into my wheelchair bag. Dad packed up my CPAP breathing machine and we found my special nurse call button that the folks at St. Vincent made me about 30 years ago. It’s just a little microswitch like I use on my remotes and stuff but it’s got a plug on it that fits their receptacle. They build it for me when I couldn’t use the ones that they had. They just told me to take it with me bring it back anytime I need it. That’s what I’ve been doing for decades.

I got on my computer and posted a quick message to Facebook and some email to friends who either don’t have Facebook or don’t read it very often. I plan online browser game called Travian. I sent them an in-game message telling them I was going to be off-line. I took a quick look at my bedroom DVR and canceled some programs that were scheduled and deleted some stuff that I could get on demand later.

We got to the hospital about noon and they took me right in. I took a urine specimen with me. We keep a supply of specimen jars here. They didn’t want to take it but I told them I didn’t think I could give them a fresher sample. It’d take a lot of effort just felt a little bottle that morning.

They wanted to start an IV on me but it’s very difficult to find a decent vein. They finally got a little ultrasound machine and found one in my upper right arm. They drew some blood from that and then hooked up and IV. At first they said they might just keep me overnight in an observation room but based on the idea that I was having other issues like appetite and swallowing etc. they decided they should put me in a regular medical ward. I got to my room about 6 PM.

I still felt really lousy but I slept reasonably well all things considered.

My urologist showed up early Wednesday morning and said he wanted to do an ultrasound of my kidneys and bladder. He wondered if perhaps I had some stones that were aggravating this infection. We were both concerned that this one was way worse than anything I had ever experienced.

I was also visited by an internal medicine doctor. My regular primary care physician is an interest but he doesn’t do hospital visits anymore. They’ve sort of change their model where they have doctors who do nothing but hospital and doctors who do nothing but office. You can’t get one that does both anymore which kind of disappoints me because I like to have someone managing my overall care like an internist who actually knows my history.

Anyway the interest was concerned that there might be something else besides urinary problems that had made me so sick. He wanted to do a CAT scan of my abdomen since I told them I have a history of diverticulitis and of course in 2006 my intestine actually ruptured and I had to have a temporary colostomy. I was similarly worried that it might be something intestinal because I was so sick. On the other hand I was not having any intestinal pain whatsoever. I was very constipated. My “normal” is perhaps every two days sometimes and it was pushing 3 or 4 since I had had a movement. (I warned you this was going to be TMI… It gets worse).

Of course when you have a CAT scan they make you drink a bunch of liquid. I did have a tiny bit of an appetite by now. I had eaten some scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. The stuff they made me drink was not as bad as some that I have had. But I had to drink three glasses of it and I only managed to get 2 of them down. At least with a good IV line I would not have any problems with the dye that they have to inject. Whenever I have a CAT scan, that is always a big hassle.

The ultrasound on my kidneys in the CAT scan procedures went relatively easily. I did end up with a fever of about 100 which was making me feel pretty lousy. Normally I have to take liquid Tylenol because I can’t swallow the caplets. But Tuesday night I was so sick with dry heaves that just the thought of taking the syrupy cherry liquid made me gag. I asked them if there was an IV Tylenol or aspirin they could give me. Their only alternative was a suppository 🙁 I was feeling bad enough that I agreed to one. Later on in this ordeal when I was eating something and swallowing better they did get me some liquid Tylenol.

Of course when you’re in the hospital one of the first questions they always ask you is “Are you allergic to anything?” For many years I always said no even though there are couple of antibiotics that I don’t tolerate very well. Of course the one time I said “no” they tried to give me one of those and when I said I didn’t want it they said “I thought you said you weren’t allergic to anything!” So now when they asked me that question I always say “I’m not allergic but there are a couple of antibiotics I don’t tolerate very well. Cipro is me really bad nausea and Keflex gives me really bad diarrhea.” Despite my dislike of Cipro, they talked me into giving it to me IV. I can usually tolerate it for about three days. After that it feels like I’ve got toxic waste flowing through my veins. Not a fun feeling when all your fighting is a bladder infection. Eventually I did talk them into using something different once the urine culture came back and they knew exactly what bacteria I was growing. My usual antibiotic of choice is something called Levaquin and I know for a fact that I have had it by IV at St. Vincent before. But for some reason they didn’t have IV Levaquin this time. Among my normal medications is a nasal spray for my sinuses. I was using Flonase but I recently switched to a different spray is a combination of Flonase which is a nasal steroid and something else which is an antihistamine. They didn’t have the new nasal spray so I went back to Flonase for a few days.

One other bit of medication issue I had… The first time the nurse went to give me meds she started naming things I had never heard of. When I asked her what it all was she said that one of them was stool softener for my constipation. I had already discussed that with the doctor and I was cool with that. Another was a kind of diuretic that was either Lasix or something similar to Lasix. That was okay. I knew I needed to get that fluid passing through me. I was a little surprised that’s what they were giving me because it is notoriously bad on your potassium levels and they had already discovered my potassium was low and they were giving me IV potassium. My previous encounters with IV potassium burned terribly. However this time it was okay because they were giving it to me very slowly mixed in with a bunch of other fluid. Anyway back to the mystery meds… One of them was a blood thinner because they were worried I was going to get blood clots lying in bed. I explained to them that I have feeling everywhere. I know when I’m uncomfortable. I have them reposition me. I’ve never had problems with bedsores. And that I wear a heavy back brace that likes to poke me in various places. While I wasn’t wearing the brace in bed, I could just imagine once I was ready to go home and put that brace on I would end up with bruises everywhere. They said it was okay if I refused to take it.

I had a long talk with the internist the next day. I told him I didn’t like them prescribing me medications that we had not previously. “That is not cool at all!” I told him. He never actually apologized but he agreed that they should have discussed those other meds with me. Other than that little glitch I really liked the doctors that I had. Also all the nurses were great. I had no complaints about any of them. I also had a chance to be cared for by some student nurses from Marion University. They all did a really good job. I had fun chatting with them. Of course they get all of the lousy jobs like feeding me breakfast and giving me a bath but it gave us time to talk. There seem to be a lot more male nurses these days. 20 or 30 years ago when I was in the hospital it seemed unusual to see even one. This is that they were all over the place in two out of the five students that worked on me were men.

After resting up from all that I decided to dig out the laptop and check out the Wi-Fi service. I had used St. Vincent Wi-Fi in the past. I don’t think I had ever used it on my old laptop. I did use dial-up on the old laptop several times before Wi-Fi was so popular. But I had previously used it on my iPod touch when my mom was in the hospital. In fact I bought my first iPod touch when she was diagnosed with cancer sort of because I knew I might be spending some hours in St. Vincent waiting rooms with nothing to do.

I didn’t have any problems identifying “STV-GUEST” as the proper Wi-Fi signal to connect to. When I told it to connect there was a pop up window that asked me to accept the terms. I didn’t bother to read it but it was a little bit suspicious because it didn’t say anything about St. Vincent. I had seen such a pop up before that did identify it as a St. Vincent user agreement.

Anyway when it finally did connect, it said that the connection was “limited”. I didn’t know what that meant. Apparently “limited” means “utterly useless”. I think around with all the troubleshooters and properties and everything else I can think of and determined that it was connecting me to the network but not giving the Internet access. For some reason it would not assigned me an IP address.

I told the nurse about it and she sent in someone who was the secretary for that floor. She was apparently their “go-to-gal” for all things computer. In the end she really didn’t know much about it. It turns out anytime she had ever tried to connect it had worked so she didn’t have any strategy for fixing the problem. She tried disconnecting and reconnecting several times to no avail. We rebooted a few times with no luck.

I tried to convince her to call someone in the IT department but she insisted that they would be highly unlikely to work on a patient computer. She says I have a backlog of maintenance tasks on the hospital’s own computers. There’s a PC in virtually every room from the nurses to do all of the record-keeping. They got a little laser barcode scanner that is Bluetooth connected to their PCs. Every time they give you a pill or an IV bag they have to scan the barcode on my wrist tag and scan the barcode on the medication. It looks like a pretty cool system for keeping track of everything.

Wednesday night I came up with a brainstorm so when I called Dad Thursday morning I had him bring me some stuff. I have a little Wi-Fi dongle that looks like a USB flash drive. I bought it from the Wi-Fi on my Raspberry Pi tiny computer. I had him bring me the Wi-Fi gadget and the driver disk. When he arrived Thursday morning I disabled the built in Wi-Fi on the laptop, installed the other Wi-Fi gadget and it behaved exactly like the built-in Wi-Fi.

Dad had his Barnes & Noble Color Nook book reader with him. We tried connecting to the Wi-Fi using his tablet and it worked perfectly 🙁 That ment it was something I was doing wrong. Or perhaps their system just wasn’t compatible with Windows 8.1. We never did figure it out. I showed dad how to log into my Facebook account to post a quick update message for friends and family.

I also installed a special chip in his Nook that sort of turns it into a full-blown Android tablet. We switched it over to Android mode and downloaded a copy of my favorite remote control program called TeamViewer. We used that program to remotely access my desktop at home. Then we can post an email using Outlook on my PC. I can use webmail on my Road Runner email account but it does not store any of my email addresses. So we got a quick message out that way.

One of the things that bothered me at this point was the status of my DVR. If I had had good Internet access I could’ve used a Bright House remote access webpage to get to my DVR and try to reschedule some shows. Unfortunately that system isn’t quite as useful as I wish it was. It will let you schedule a recording. It will let you see what you have scheduled to record. It will let you cancel a scheduled recording. What it will not do is it will not show you what you already have recorded nor will it tell you how full your DVR currently is. That makes it marginally useful in my opinion. I didn’t bother to have dad try to log into that mess. I would just have to hope that any movies I had scheduled would be shown again later and that any regular TV shows I could catch on demand more from “other sources” wink wink.

I normally eat two meals a day and a snack before bedtime. That’s usually lunch and dinner. But since I was waking up early and eating breakfast and lunch I didn’t really feel much like dinner. One thing that was cramping my style, they had me only cardiac diet. I was going to argue with them that I really didn’t have any cardiac diet restrictions but they explained to me that it was really a no salt diet (low-sodium) because they wanted to keep the fluids running through me and salt makes you retain fluid. So I really couldn’t argue with that.

Early on Wednesday the urologist had said he was probably going to put a catheter in me. The whole reason I get these infections is because my bladder doesn’t completely drain. However when I told the internist and the nurses have difficulty usually is to hit one of those things in me, they all decided they wanted the urologist to do it. He would not be back until Thursday morning. So although I should probably had the catheter on Wednesday it didn’t happen until Thursday. The urologist sent over his nurse to do it. It actually went better than some such procedures I’ve had although none of them are any fun.

On Thursday morning the urologist came in early and told me that the ultrasound and CAT scan showed nothing extraordinary on my kidneys or bladder. He said that he had already known I have some small cysts of fluid on my kidneys that they were nothing to worry about. He knew about them but I don’t ever recall hearing about them. Anyway I asked him what the CAT scan had to say about my intestines. “I don’t really know… I was more interested in your urinary system.” Viva specialization! The internist was very late getting in that day. I was kind of anxious to hear about the CAT scan. When he finally did show up he said everything looked normal.

Okay here is a double triple TMI alert…

I mentioned that I was constipated so they finally started giving me some stool softener’s. It took two days worth of them but finally early Thursday, they kicked in and I filled a couple of bedpans with some really nasty stuff. I did start getting some cramps after I was cleaned out but having heard that the CAT scan on the intestines was okay I didn’t worry about it too much. The pain went away pretty quickly.

When I talked to the internist late Thursday I asked him “What is our goal here for getting me home?” My white cell count had been something like 37,000 when I came in. They had it down to 22,000 and normal is 11,000. I asked him does it have to be normal? Anyway after a small conversation he concluded there was a good chance I could go home Friday that he needed more input from the urologist.

One other visitor I had on Thursday was a woman from the chaplain’s office. I had thought about calling them. I told them when I went in that I was Catholic and wanted to receive communion but nobody had showed up. When she stopped by for a visit I told her that no one had been by. She looked at her paperwork and she did have me down as Catholic. She promised someone would be in and they did show up Friday morning for communion. That was nice.

Also my friend Rich stopped by Thursday night for a quick visit on his way home from work. I told him the whole saga about the Wi-Fi problems. We also got caught up talking about our favorite TV shows such as The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy. He was the only visitor I had other than dad but that was okay.

Thursday night was the Colts game versus the Titans. Fortunately St. Vincent has a great selection of cable TV channels including your usual basic cable ESPN, ESPN2 2, all of the news channels including MSNBC, and all the science and discovery and history channels. Fortunately when the Colts play on NFL network may always allow a local station to broadcast the game it was on WTHR. I was pretty wiped out and I dozed off somewhere late in the second quarter and woke up during the opening drive of the third quarter. Naturally I was very disappointed at the way the whole first half went. I tried not to scream too loud when Luck ran in that touchdown from about 12 yards out to give us the lead. I was really worried when we were only up by 2 field goals because I knew if Tennessee ever got their act together again, they might march right in with another touchdown. Fortunately we ended up leading by 10 and I got a little bit of a relief. Then Tennessee marched in and scored. The onside kick was no good and we ended up winning. I classified as one of those apologetic “a win is a win” kind of games. At least they didn’t slaughter us like what happened the week before.

I slept reasonably good Thursday night. I was disappointed Friday morning when the urologist did not come in like he usually does. That did not look good for my prospects of coming on Friday. However the nurses all had the word that I was a probable discharge. I’m guessing it was about 10 AM that the internist finally showed up. He had talked to the urologist who apparently had been on the floor or had checked in at the nurses station or something but had not visited with me. Anyway he had signed off on the discharge so the internist said that I was good to go. He would write up my orders.

In addition to things like removing my IV and all that stuff, we needed to make some changes to the catheter system. I had about 6 feet of tubing and a huge bag hanging on the side of the bed. They switched that to a shorter tube and a leg bag. Dad got me dressed to go. As I suspected it had experienced previously after being on IV fluid for a long time, my back brace didn’t fit worth a damn. We put it on me as best we could. Fortunately they had a Hoyer patient lifter gadget to lift me out of bed and into the wheelchair. Once I was sitting up I could tell for sure that the brace was a mess and that my arms were extremely stiff. I knew it was going to be at least a day and probably two until I would be able to function normally. There was no way I was going to be able to drive my wheelchair.

I did get a chance to say goodbye to some of the nursing students before I left. They were all really cool people. Also the transport people who took me back and forth for various tests were all pretty cool. Every time they were about to go over a bump in the floor such as getting on and off of the elevators they would warn you. I thought that was really special. I told them I wasn’t in any pain and it didn’t really matter that I could see that if I was in pain, every bump would’ve been a big deal and it was nice that they would always warn patient. Dad had been bringing little three wheel go-go scooter that we had bought for my mom. It’s a very long way from the parking to my room and he really liked having it. Once I was up in the chair, dad got in the go-go and went to get the car. They sent someone from transportation to push me downstairs in my wheelchair. In a cool bit of bookend irony, the guy who had pushed me from the ER to my room on the first night was the same guy who pushed me from the room down to the lobby.

We stopped by the drugstore to turn in my prescription for some liquid antibiotic. We told them we would pick it up in a couple of hours. They just called to say they didn’t have it and would not be able to get it until tomorrow morning. Dad just drove back over there to pick up the prescription and try to take it to a different drugstore. I did not yet have my IV antibiotic today or I would’ve waited until tomorrow morning but I don’t want to wait a full day without any more medicine going in me.

It’s a little bit strained sitting here in front of the computer not being able to drive my wheelchair or get to the phone in case of an emergency. Dad asked if I was going to be okay with him running this errand. I told him I was at the computer and if he didn’t show up in a couple of hours I would send out some emergency emails and Facebook messages.

The first thing when I got home was I had dad put me in front computer to send out email and Facebook reports that I was home. Then I tried eating some lunch but didn’t feel like much of an appetite. I was having a little bit of difficulty breathing until we loosened up some of the straps on my back brace and then I was okay.

The next thing I did was go through about 300 unread emails 95% of them were of course spam. Then I started going through my DVR to see how much damage I had. Fortunately I have a gadget that allows me to send IR remote signals to the DVR using a webpage on my PC. I see what’s on the bedroom DVR because I have a coaxial cable running from the bedroom into the office where I can watch the bedroom DVR from the office. There were only two movies that I’ve lost that I was not able to reschedule. Fortunately they were ones that weren’t very important to me. I get by without seeing them. There were quite a few that I really did not want to lose and was lucky to catch on the schedule a few days from now. I will still have to catch up with some shows on demand but that’s okay as well.

After that I started writing this blog. It’s great to be home with a real computer and real Internet connection and real cable TV with DVR!

Thanks for all of the prayers and support from family and friends.

PS added later… Neither Walgreens nor CVS had my antibiotic in liquid form. Instead we got it in a capsule form and we open a capsule up and mix it in some vanilla pudding. That’s what they did with some of the pills I had to take in the hospital. And he did make it home okay so I don’t need to send out any emergency emails 🙂 I still not limber enough to drive my wheelchair but I think I push buttons on my TV remote and we might even crush some candy on the iPod touch if we’re lucky. All future updates will be quickies on Facebook.

Disguising a Wheelchair on Halloween

Lots of people have been sharing their creative Halloween costumes online. Today’s costumes have to have lots of blinking LEDs, electroluminescent wire, and all sorts of other electronic effects. I can only imagine the kind of costume I might have dreamed up when I was a little kid if I’d had access to the electronics that I have access to today.

However as you will see below, my parents and I did get pretty creative in trying to design a Halloween costume that dealt with the fact I’m in a wheelchair.

I think my favorite is this one from 1963 when I was 8 years old. We had recently purchased a washing machine or some other big appliance that came in a giant cardboard box. We reused the box for my costume and decorated it like a TV set. We cut a hole in the front for the screen and I dressed up in a cowboy outfit. That made me “A Cowboy on TV”. You probably can’t see it on this photo but written on the front of the TV was the words “RCA Living Color” even though probably at the time we only had a black-and-white TV.

The problem with doing something creative is that you constantly have to try to outdo yourself over and over again. While in 1963 costume simply covered up the wheelchair, the 1964 costume sought to transform the wheelchair into part of the costume itself. A canopy was added to the wheelchair to make it look like a baby stroller. Of course that meant that I had to dress up like a baby. I don’t know how they ever talk me into doing this but I did anyway.


Here’s a closer view where the photo is not quite as faded.


For 1965 we just sort of ignored the wheelchair when turned me into a robot. I suppose a robot could sit in a wheelchair. The arms and legs were made out of flexible duct work. The chest and head piece were cardboard covered with aluminum foil.


I’m pretty sure that after that I didn’t do much trick-or-treating. In years prior to that I always just got a ready-made purchased costume. The only photos I could find on many of those costumes go all the way back to 1958 where I was an astronaut before there even were astronauts. Or maybe I was a Martian who knows?


Here’s another photo from the same year. The guy in the Popeye costume is my former next-door neighbor and currently my dentist Dr. Michael Tillery.

Here's what the guy in the Popeye suit is doing today.

Here’s what the guy in the Popeye suit is doing today. (Click to view)

You’ve probably seen his advertisements on local TV. I’m not sure who the other person was. The writing on the photo is very faded. I tried adjusting brightness and contrast and could almost make out the word Jenny or Jeremy but I don’t remember anybody by that name.

I have all sorts of ideas of how I could string rows of LEDs around the wheelchair or create fancy light show displays. I could put a string of LEDs around my wheels and use an accelerometer chip to detect when the wheels are turning and that would change the pattern of lights. It would be a lot of work and I never go to Hollywood parties or go anywhere like nightclubs where having a blinking outfit would be cool. So I guess I will stick to my usual electronic projects such as TV remote controls and toy helicopter controllers.

New App Maps and Rates Wheelchair Accessibility

Back in the 1980s my mother had a grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation to create an accessibility guidebook for Indianapolis. The book was called “Navigation Unlimited in Indianapolis”. It was actually an update of an earlier book that the foundation had produced. Many different disability organizations had created such guidebooks for other cities around the country. This was prior to ADA and other accessibility legislation. She went around to hundreds of public places and measured doorways, surveyed restrooms, counted steps, measured curbs and scouted accessible entrances.

After ADA and other building code changes I’m happy to say that for the most part such a guidebook is not needed. But there are still a few places where access is problematic. One guy has found a modern way to handle this problem. He has created an app using Google maps that allows people to rate various locations and facilities as to their accessibility or more importantly there inaccessibility to people in wheelchairs. Here is an article from Time online telling his story.

My mother would’ve absolutely loved this. In fact I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.

My Strange NASCAR Dream

As all of you who know me you know that I’m a big fan of IndyCar and NASCAR racing. What I’ve never told anyone is that I have strange recurring dreams about giant crashes in both of these forms of racing. While I do often record a race on my DVR and skip through it just to watch the crashes, I’m not such a sicko that it only watch racing to see the crashes. I like to think of myself as someone who likes to see people walk away from crashes safely. When I have the dream crashes, there are always way more spectacular and strange than anything I’ve ever seen in real life or on TV. They’re even bigger than some of the more famous crash scenes in Hollywood movies. The only thing that I’ve ever seen that actually occurred that is as spectacular (read “horrific”) as the crashes in my dreams would’ve been the season-ending IndyCar crash at Las Vegas Speedway that took the life of Dan Weldon last year. Drivers in that race described the scene as something that looked like it was the set of a Transformers movie. That’s the kind of crashes in my recurring crash dreams.

A little over a week ago I had another crash dream of a NASCAR crash. It was no wonder that NASCAR was on my mind because Daytona Speed Week was approaching which kicks off the start of the NASCAR season. In my dream there was an incident that I thought was typical of the kind of unrealistic and bizarre character of my recurring crash dreams. One of the features of the dream was that Jeff Gordon was involved in a crash and that his car did several barrel rolls and landed upside down. That’s not really that strange. NASCAR cars have been known to do barrel rolls especially at a track like Daytona. Although they’ve paved much of the infield areas where the cars run off in accidents, there are still lots of grassy areas that the cars can slide through. If they slide sideways at a 90 degree angle typically the tires dig into the mud and the cars do a barrel roll. It was unusual because I knew it was Jeff Gordon. Typically in my dreams these crashes involve nameless drivers and unrecognized cars. Although the barrel roll was not unusual, there was something else unusual about this crash but we’ll get to that later.

Daytona speed week starts off with a non-points paying race called the Budweiser Shootout. It’s a brief race only for those who have won a race or qualified on the pole recently. It’s a trophy dash with a winner take all cash prize. It doesn’t really count towards the Sprint Cup points. It’s really just sort of an exhibition to kick things off sort of like preseason in NFL or NBA. The race was a week ago on Saturday night and to no one’s surprise there were many crashes. But I was surprised when Jeff Gordon driving car number 24 like he always does was in a crash, slid sideways, and did two and a half barrel rolls landing upside down. It was very eerily similar to my dream. I was watching the race on TV with my dad and I turned to him and said “You’re not going to believe this but a couple of nights ago I had a dream about Jeff Gordon being in a crash in which he did two barrel rolls.” But I went on to explain that my dream was slightly different than the crash in the Budweiser Shootout that night.

In my dream crash was caused because he crashed into a safety vehicle that had for some reason wandered out onto the track while the cars were still moving at high speed. Dad and I both kind of chuckled saying “yeah like that could ever happen”.

Sunday afternoon I prepared myself to watch this year’s running of the self-proclaimed “Great American Race” the Daytona 500 but unfortunately it was rained out. They rescheduled it for noon on Monday but the rain continued. They then rescheduled it for 7 PM Monday night under the lights in prime time. It only took about one lap +100 yards before there was a big crash. Multiple time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson got sideways and caused a chain reaction that took out several cars including the star of the show Danica Patrick who this year switch to from IndyCar to NASCAR with much fanfare and hype. It was your typical Daytona crash. There were other typical Daytona crashes throughout the rest of the evening none of which were as spectacular as the ones in my dreams. That is until we got to top 160 out of the 200 scheduled.

There was some small incident that caused a yellow flag. Former IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya who drives the number 40 Target car in the NASCAR series had come into the pits with the rest of the leaders but had noticed some vibration in the back of his car. While they were busy cleaning up the track from the previous accident, he returned to the pits and had the crew check over his rear suspension. Finding nothing wrong, they sent him back out onto the track. He wanted to be caught up to the field when the green flag came out so he was going faster than normal during a yellow light. There’s nothing wrong with that. People do it all the time. You just stay low on the track, watch out for the safety vehicles, and get caught up to the pack. But as he pulled out of the pits, he noted on the radio that is vibration was continuing. As he approached some safety vehicles at the end of the backstretch entering the third term, something broke on the car. His car spun out of control as it passed one of the safety vehicles and it crashed into the back of a second vehicle.

A bit of an aside for a moment… When they clean up the race track after a crash, they spread a powdered substance on the track called “oil dry” that soaks up any oil or other fluids that are spilled on the track as a result of an accident. They then sweep up or blow away the absorbent powder leaving a clean track. Here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the cleanup is usually done by a standard street cleaning machine. It’s a huge white truck somewhat resembling a Zamboni that’s used to clean the ice at a hockey game. It has rotating brushes underneath a large vacuum system to suck up the powder or debris or whatever. You will recall that a few paragraphs ago I said that the difference between my dream about Jeff Gordon crash and the actual Jeff Gordon crash was that he had crashed into a safety vehicle. In my dream, the vehicle he crashed into was one of these street sweeping vacuums. However I learned for the first time last night that the Daytona Motor Speedway does not typically use the sweeping machines because the corners at Daytona have a banking of 30 degrees which is too steep to safely drive these trucks. Instead they use a heavy-duty quad-cab dual rear wheel pickup truck towing a trailer which contains a jet blower. A jet blower is a small gas turbine engine the kind used in small helicopters. It has a vent which blows hot air down onto the track. Typically they are used to dry the track after a rain but at Daytona and they also use them in place of the street sweeper machines to blow the debris off of the track during caution periods. The bizarre thing about my Jeff Gordon dream was that not only did he do a barrel roll, so did the street sweeper machine. That’s how bizarre my dreams are. But as many have said, truth is stranger than fiction. This incident involving Juan Pablo Montoya and a “safety vehicle” was not a street sweeper. He crashed into the jet engine being towed by the safety vehicle.

When Montoya hit the truck, it was 90 degrees sideways and the front end of his car crashed into the jet blower. He then spun around and the rear of his car hit the driver side door of the pickup truck. He then spun to a stop with flames coming out the front and rear of his car. He climbed out okay. The driver of the safety truck had to climb out the passenger side and was helped down to 30 degrees banking. He was shaken up but was unharmed. Then the flames started pouring out of the jet dryer. It took several minutes for multiple fire crews to try to bring the thing under control. The question then was if there was any damage to the asphalt. The race had been stopped under a red flag with 40 laps to go. After a delay of well over an hour they finally had the mess cleaned up, the track had been scrubbed clean and patched with a quick patch material and the race continued. There were still more wrecks of course but nothing as bizarre as the exploding jet engine. They finally completed the race at 12:56 AM Tuesday morning.

I hardly think I’m clairvoyant. I dreamed that Jeff Gordon crashed into a sweeper vehicle and both of them did barrel rolls. What really happened was Jeff Gordon did barrel roll or two on his own and then a week later Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a different kind of safety truck than the one I dreamed of. Neither Montoya nor the jet dryer did barrel rolls. But it still was a bizarre experience overall.

Here is a YouTube version of the entire scene of the Montoya crash as it played out live on Fox network. This version probably will not last long on YouTube since it’s an illegal copy but I’ll post it here anyway. There are more versions below from Fox sports that will stay available permanently.

Here is a highlight video from Fox sports showing the Montoya crash. More video below this…
<a href=';src=v5:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Highlights: Daytona Explosion' >Video: Highlights: Daytona Explosion</a>

Here is a Fox sports video highlights of the Budweiser Shootout featuring the Jeff Gordon crash near the end of the race.
<a href=';src=v5:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Highlights: Budweiser Shootout' >Video: Highlights: Budweiser Shootout</a>

Bad Words

September 17, 1990… a day that will live in infamy.

Okay so I exaggerated… it wasn’t up there on a par with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor or any other big dates in textbook history. However for those of us fascinated with words and the use and abuse thereof, that day ought to be enshrined in some sort of “Free Speech Hall Of Fame”. On that day on the CBS television network, actress Sharon Gless playing the title character of her new short-lived drama series “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill” muses to her psychiatrist “I’m thinking about getting my tits done.”

The use of the word “tits” was as far as I can tell the first non-accidental breach of George Carlin’s infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television“.That famous comedy routine was recorded May 27, 1972 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and appeared on Carlin’s live comedy album Class Clown. Carlin was once arrested for obscenity for performing the routine live. When a similar routine called “Filthy Words” was aired uncensored on a radio station in California, it led to a famous Supreme Court decision that has formed the basis for most broadcast obscenity cases ever since then. A Wikipedia article about the routine does a fairly good job of recounting its history and its consequences.

An illustration of the ridiculousness of banning words is the use of one of the banned words “piss”. Its past tense form “pissed” is perfectly acceptable in certain contexts on broadcast television when used to indicate a state of anger. You can say “I’m pissed off” but you can’t say “I was so drunk I pissed on my shoes.” I’m not really sure whether or not “I’m pissed” meaning a state of inebriation would make it past the censors or not. Carlin was quick to point out the hypocrisy regarding banned words when he notes that even your mother would say “shoot” when she really meant “shit”. The words are used identically in both meaning and context yet one is acceptable and the other is not.

Of course “fuck” is widely considered the dirtiest of dirty words yet television programs routinely substitute similar words with obvious identical meaning and get away with it. Police dramas such as “NYPD Blue” routinely substituted “freakin” for “fuckin” when used as an expletive. However such substitutions on broadcast television rarely extend from mere expletive all the way to the literal meaning as a sexual act.

I always admired the Sci-fi Channel series “Farscape” for its use of the substitute word “frell” because it used a variety of forms of the word. It wasn’t just “oh frell” when trouble occurs or a personally directed “frell you”. You would also hear it used in a context such as “Come on baby let’s go frell.” Hands down the ultimate substitute word is Battlestar Galactica’s “frak” which is probably my favorite. I have to admit surprise when I read a recent recent article that reported the use of “frak” actually dates back to the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica TV series and not just the current remake which as been running since 2004. The use of “frak” in the show is used in absolutely every conceivable way that you would use the original “fuck”. I’m certain I’ve heard everything including but not limited to “Oh frak”, “come on lets frak”, “get the frak outta here”, “frak you”, “hand me that frakin wrench”, “I don’t give a frak”, “frak off”, and probably others I can’t recall right now. The only version I don’t believe I’ve heard is “mother-fraker” or “mother-fraking” but I wouldn’t swear they’ve never used it.

Although Sci-fi Channel is cable, it is basic cable which usually adheres to broadcast standards and I’m pretty sure that reruns have appeared on NBC broadcast uncensored. The hypocrisy of banning the use of a word while permitting a nearly identical word with identical meaning in a variety of contexts just drives me crazy the more I think about it.

While I appreciate the desire to in some form shield young children from vulgarity, somehow society has gotten to the point where the word itself… the symbol and not the thing or concept which the symbol represents… is what gets banned. If we really wanted to protect their children from vulgarity then a phrase like “go frak yourself” ought to be just as a offensive as “go fuck yourself”.

I’m not suggesting that censorship ought to be stronger and that “frak” in all its forms ought to be banned as well. I’m saying that if we are going to regulate speech at all (which I would rather not do either) then we ought to regulate the ideas rather than the words themselves. Again let me be clear I’m all in favor of free speech under 99.99% circumstances. I could even argue that could go as high as 100% deregulation of words because I think there is something to be said for going ahead and exposing small children to real-world discourse no matter how bad it is. Such exposure can then be used as a teachable moment. We need to teach our kids that there are “bad things” in the world. There is evil, hatred, prejudice, injustice, intolerance, violence and all sorts of other things which they should avoid if they want to be “good little boys and girls”. But the words in and of themselves are not bad. The things which the so-called bad words communicate is where in the evil lies.

Another problem with the idea that we must use only politically correct words is that times change and what is the proper word for one generation is improper for another generation. Descriptions of race are the prime example. The scientific and technical term for a person with dark skin and African heritage is “Negro”. The use of such words today outside some sort of biology or sociology text is archaic at best is offensive to many.  To some extent one can get away with using the word in those contexts on a limited basis. You can talk about the Negro race but you can’t call a particular person a Negro and get away with it. The word has stuck around as marginally acceptable simply because there are times when you need to describe that particular race of people as distinct from Caucasian, Asian, etc.

Next we come to “nigger”. I’m not going to argue in favor of its use because it has and always will be a “bad word”. But it is bad because of the concept which it denotes, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the word. It has always been a deliberate derogatory term designed to demean people and it is inextricably attached to the practice of slavery. So it really is a bad word if there ever was one.

For some time African-American culture especially comedians like Richard Pryor in reflecting his culture use the word liberally in an attempt to diffuse the power of the word. By co-opting the word and changing its meaning as a piece of slang used by African Americans affectionately to describe one another it power was indeed diminished. Co-opting the word for another use made my point that the word itself is not bad. I always felt it was a clever attempt to take the sting out of the word. Rap stars and others have tried to make a distinction between “nigga” and “nigger” with the former being the affectionate slang for intra-racial address and the latter being the derogatory term it had traditionally been. However recent use of abuse of the word has even got the hardest of hard-core rappers reconsidering its use. They are, probably correctly, beginning to realize that legitimizing one use of the word invariably legitimizes all use of it.

For decades the politically correct term for people of African descent was “colored” but even that word took on a negative connotation with signs like “no colored allowed” or “colored only”. “Colored” became as tied to the practice of discrimination as “nigger” was tied to slavery. The word “colored” gave way to “black” which is still in use of course. At one point “black” gave way to “African-American”.  Technically a Caucasian from Africa… even a racist, apartheid loving South African… who moved to the United States is ironically “African-American”. So the term African-American is probably a little bit problematic from a technical point of view.

One of the problems with ever evolving politically correct terms is that certain anachronisms cannot be eliminated. The largest and most important civil rights organization in the country remains the NAACP which of course stands for the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People”. There is a bitter irony in the fact that millions of black people proudly support the organization but would be highly offended if you called them a “colored person”.

In the end I appreciate and sympathize with people who are offended by insults. I’m not arguing in favor of maliciously insulting people. But I really think we’ve gotten much to sensitive and much too hypocritical about the use of words and their power to offend. I really wish people would go back to the “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” lesson that used to be taught to children.

Unless you’re from another planet you didn’t need me to recount the history of derogatory terms for African-Americans. But I wanted to draw parallels between that terminology and another set of terminology that is much more personal to me. As a person who has spent their entire life in a wheelchair, I’ve had to deal on a regular basis with the variety of shifting politically correct terms to describe people like me. In the next installment we’ll explore terms like cripple, handicap, disabled, challenged, differently abled (yech) and a variety of other labels related to disabilities.

About Words

“So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals…” Gen 2:19-20

The above passage from Genesis is not alone in its opinion that the ability to name things is something that separates us from other species. The use of words is really an amazing concept when you think about it. What is it about certain sounds emanating from a person’s mouth, certain symbols printed on a page, or written with a pen that allows us to transmit so much information. It is awesome to ponder the ability of the human brain to make the abstract connection between words and the endless variety of things which those words represent . Words allow us not only to name physical objects but to describe them. And it’s not just physical reality… abstract words can be symbols for abstract concepts such as love, hate, fear, beautiful, good and bad.

Some words such as “bang”, “tinkle”, “ding” have a direct connections to the things they represent. These words are symbolic of sounds and the words themselves are reminiscent of the sounds they represent. Such words are called “onomatopoeia”. However these words are the exception to the rule. For example if I write or speak the word “elephant”, there is nothing about either the sound of the word nor the written letters that make up the word that has any remote connection to the thing it represents. Yet if I speak the word or write it on the page for someone to read, immediately creates a picture in their mind of a large gray animal with a long trunk, floppy ears, and tree trunk legs.

In John 1:14 the evangelist describes Jesus as “the Word made flesh” with the word “Word” capitalized like a proper noun. He does so because Jesus is the ultimate example of the phrase “the medium is the message”. Jesus is both message and messenger. He is the perfect communication of the Father about who He is and His plans and expectations for humanity. Like all “words” he is a symbolic representation of something far bigger and far more difficult to grasp than the word itself.

Information technology pioneer Alan Turing once speculated that someday computers would achieve the level of artificial intelligence that was indistinguishable from genuine human behavior. He suggested that if you got in a chat room with an intelligent computer and could not tell whether or not you were talking to was a computer or a live person then that computer had been passed the Turing test of artificial intelligence.

Jesus being “the Word made flesh” is such a perfect symbol… such a perfect expression of that which He symbolizes… that He passes the theological equivalent of the Turing test.  In John’s 14:8-9 the disciple Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father.” Jesus replies almost in anger “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

In my own struggles of faith to understand what it means to say that there is “real presence” of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist and in wrestling with the millennia-old debate about whether the Eucharist is just a symbol or is something real, it’s been useful to me to think of the Eucharist as a perfect symbol in the same sense that Jesus is the perfect Word. Jesus is such a perfect representation of the Father that he becomes indistinguishable from and one with the Father. For me that Eucharist is such a perfect symbol that it becomes indistinguishable from that which it represents. That’s probably not a theological explanation that would get an imprimatur from any Catholic cleric but it sure helps me wrap my brain around the biggest of Christian Mysteries.

Unfortunately not all words are as perfect at representing or communicating what was intended as is Jesus as the Word made flesh or Jesus in the Eucharist. Words are only effective if both the transmitters and receivers have some sort of communal agreement as to what the words really mean. The Oxford English Dictionary is by consensus the ultimate collection of definitions of words in the English language. However it’s not just a bunch of stuffy British linguists sitting around in overstuffed chairs with leather patches on their elbows and bow ties around their necks arbitrarily deciding what is or is not proper English. It is a large group of researchers who scour the written and spoken word to gauge how words are used in society. When a new word gets sufficient use in public discourse or an old word takes on a new meaning with sufficient frequency, in the dictionary is augmented or amended to reflect these changes in the living English language.

One of my favorite (somewhat ridiculous) pieces of the English language which has come into existence in my own lifetime is the suffix “-gate” meaning some sort of political scandal. I’ve not found a better example of how a word has taken on a new meaning so totally unrelated to and so abstract from its original meaning. The source of this strange usage is of course the Watergate scandal in which the Nixon administration engaged in burglary and other illegal acts in order to preserve the Nixon presidency. This scandal ultimately led to his downfall because of the egregious obstructions of justice carried out at his orders in order to cover-up the offenses. A few years later Lieut. Col. Oliver North under the Reagan administration was caught in a scandal involving Central American rebels and the illegal sale of arms to Iran. The scandal became known as “The Iran- Contra Scandal” which was soon redubbed by the media “Iran-Contra-Gate”. From that moment forward the suffix “-gate” took on a whole new meaning. Of course the media had a tough time adapting this strange new meaning of the word when Bill and Hillary Clinton were investigated regarding a questionable real estate deal known as “Whitewater”. Somehow calling it “Whitewater-gate” just didn’t seem to work given that the whole “gate” thing began with a different kind of Watergate.

Words are a strange thing indeed. They make civilization possible because they allow us to communicate. They allow us to grasp the ungraspable and ponder the unreachable. Words are such a bizarre thing that we even send our children mixed messages when trying to teach them about the power of words. On one hand we teach them “The pen is mightier than the sword”. On the other hand we teach them “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” In that respect words are like water. Water is essential for life but too much water is deadly. If the pan is indeed mightier than the sword then perhaps it is a two edged sword that cuts both ways.

In my next installment I hope to explore how words, especially words whose meanings evolve over time, strangely seem to evolve from innocuous and neutral means of expressing reality into powerfully painful weapons some of which society has concluded ought never be wielded.

Fall TV schedule

Every year for my own purposes I put together a fall TV schedule that shows me what’s new, what got canceled, what got moved etc.

I figure if I’m going to go to all that trouble just for myself I might as well share it with everyone else. Usually I get the information directly from the network websites but they didn’t do a very good job of putting up an actual schedule. Fox used to put up one that not only showed the upcoming fall season but previewed the January replacements as well. No more this time.

Wikipedia has a pretty good schedule and it was the source for much of what I did. You can find it here.

Click here for my version of the schedule especially color coded to show what’s new and what moved.

Reflections on Obama Race Speech

Yesterday Senator Barack Obama made a speech about race and politics and religion in America. It’s prompted me to reflect on some themes that he touched on as they relate to my own life. You can find complete video of Obama’s speech on my YouTube channel under favorites.

He spoke about his white grandmother who despite her undying love and dedication to him she expressed her fears of confronting black men on the street and her offensive use of racial and ethnic stereotypes. It caused me to remember my own maternal grandmother who was very much a kind and gentle woman who loved people of all kinds and never really expressed what I thought was much of a racist attitude except for one time. When I was very young, perhaps five or six years old, my parents that I had a membership in the West Lake Swim Club. It was a private swimming pool on the west side of Indianapolis which is no longer there but it was at or near the current site of the West Lake Apartments. In order to be a member of the club you had to show a special photo ID that they would issue you. It was explained to me that this was a thinly veiled attempt to “keep the coloreds out”. I distinctly remember a conversation with my grandmother in which I asked her why we wanted to keep colored people out of our swimming pool. I sarcastically exclaimed “it’s not like the stuff comes off when they get wet is it?” Of course I knew it didn’t and I was being facetious even at that early age.

Grandma Osterman had a tough time trying to justify the situation to me. She explained that colored people had swimming pools they could use. They were public pools run by the Parks Department. They had their pools and we had our pools and so it was fair. By the way I’ve not found my parents to be particularly racist. We join the West Lake Swim Club because it was nearby and had a really great pool. My parents attitude at the time was they didn’t care if there were blacks there are not.

I always found it strange thinking back on the conversation with my grandmother because nothing else in my entire experience of her until her death in 1990 lead me to find hurt to be even the slightest bit racist. She had worked with black people for years and her job at Fort Benjamin Harrison Army Finance Center. She was always very friendly and cordial with black nurses and caregivers who cared for her in her later years. She was never condescending towards them and always treated them with respect.

I think it really wasn’t until Obama’s yesterday that I really got a good grasp on her incongruous comments about the all white swim club. It wasn’t that her attitude about the all-white facility was some expression of deeply hidden racism. It was simply a product of her upbringing. She was born in 1900 and this conversation with her took place in the early 1960s. At that point she had lived her entire life where it was a given that whites and coloreds were to remain separate. It was the natural order of things and she had known no different her entire life. It wasn’t that she saw anything inherently wrong with black people. Her experience, her attitude was simply a statement of fact that this was the way things were and since there was nothing unusual about it there must be nothing wrong with it.

Moving on to the issue of ethnic stereotypes especially in regard to humor. I’ve always been an incredibly politically incorrect person when it comes to humor. Rarely have I ever shied away from telling ethnic jokes of any variety whether it was blacks, Polish, Kentuckians, Jews, Italians and especially my own religion Catholics. I’ve always felt that recitation and/or appreciation of ethnic jokes was not an indication (at least in my case) of any kind of prejudice whatsoever. I should also say that I also deeply appreciate humor regarding people with disabilities. I’ve always had a difficult time understanding how people are offended by humor. I think something either is funny or it isn’t and the level of offense that someone takes at it isn’t significant. To quote one of my heroes Lenny Bruce “Fuck them if they can’t take a joke!”

The only handicapped joke I ever found mildly disturbing was the following riddle…

Q. Why shouldn’t you have sex with a vegetable?
A. Because it’s too difficult to get them back in the wheelchair once you’re done with them?

When I heard that, I laughed really hard and it was genuine laughter… not the kind of nervous laughter that emits when you’ve heard something offensive and don’t know if you should laugh or not. It was not the kind of laughter you generate to cover-up a difficult or embarrassing situation. I laughed because I thought it was genuinely funny. But then I cringed…

Two reasons actually… the first of which isn’t as obvious as the second. My first reason is I’ve always thought that the word “vegetable” was a totally ridiculous use of the word in regards to comatose people. Even the medically correct term “persistent vegetative state” seems ludicrous to me. I think it’s the scientist in me and a lover of words that just thinks the word vegetable is stupid in such circumstances. You don’t call a sleeping dog a vegetable. He’s a sleeping animal. So is a comatose or even totally brain-dead human being. Being unconscious doesn’t convert you from animals to vegetable no matter how unconscious you are! A vegetable is a plant for God’s sake! It’s red or green or white and is stuck in the ground and has no nervous system and makes food through photosynthesis. So I’ve always been a little bit offended by the word vegetable in regards to human beings.

The second reason that I cringed at the joke was a little closer to home. I think all really offensive humor offends people because it has more truth in it than they’re willing to accept. The joke caused me to wonder how many opportunities I had lost at getting laid simply because it would’ve been too hard to get me out of and back into the wheelchair! In the end I had a very deep appreciation for the joke because it got a rise out of me in the way no other piece of humor ever did. It did not however set me off on a political tirade like offensive humor does for so many people.

Finally we come to the topic of being held accountable for the bizarre statements of our religious leaders…

On a worldwide level there are a number of statements and positions by various popes and other upper-level church leaders with which I have had serious disagreement. I don’t particularly see myself as one of those “Cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose which doctrines they are going to believe in which ones they are going to ignore. The particular issues with which I disagree with the institutional church are issues which I’ve taken the time to study and understand the church’s position. I understand the position completely. In many respects I understand why they profess what it is they are professing. I simply disagree. I’m also aware that not everything that comes out at the mouth of a pope or a church official or a bishop or priest has the same weight of authority. Some issues are core issues of dogma that you either accept or you need to start looking for a different religion. Some issues are in the form of guidance which you should seriously heed but are not necessarily going to cost you your soul if you don’t.

Among the teachings of the Church which trouble me is its attitude towards homosexuals. In one respect I’m extremely proud of the Church in that it is much more accepting of homosexuals that many more fundamentalist Christian faiths. The Catholic Church recognizes that most and perhaps all homosexuals are simply wired that way. Their stance is that a homosexual orientation is not in and of itself sinful. However it firmly believes that sex outside of marriage is sinful. Marriage is only for heterosexual couples. And therefore all homosexual sex is sinful. So basically they say you can be gay all day long at longer
you don’t do anything about it. In some ways it treats them a lot like it treats me: a single, not likely to be married, heterosexual. It acknowledges that I am a sexual being but until and unless I can find someone to get me in and out of that wheelchair every day in the state of marriage… I need to keep it zipped.

That said… I really think committed, monogamous, homosexuals ought to be free to go beyond just being homosexually oriented and become homosexually active.

I am so embarrassed by the Church’s position on this issue that it cost me a friend in a very strange way. Many years ago I became good friends with a Catholic priest. He was a good spiritual director for me. I continue to teach classes in the Catholic faith based upon some of his classes and homilies. I have great admiration and respect for him. At one point he felt it necessary to leave the priesthood and come out of the closet and live an openly gay relationship with a partner. It completely destroyed my ability to continue my friendship with him. I’m not homophobic… I’m just damned embarrassed as a Catholic. I’m pissed off that he had to leave the priesthood. I’m pissed off that he is unwelcome in the church. I found it impossible to continue to share with him what was going on in my life because so much of what I do revolves around my work in the church. I’m embarrassed that my life in the Catholic Church goes on and he has to find alternate ways to express his faith and do God’s work because of an institution I belong to. So much of our friendship was based on our shared faith that I just don’t have the guts to spend time with him and talk about it anymore.

So I really understand what it’s like to be embarrassed by the proclamations of your religious leaders.

On a more personal note there have been a number of things which various priests whom I’ve considered friends have said things that I totally totally disagree with. Here is a short list in no particular order.

  • Although it’s okay to use Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader as excellent symbols of the battle of good versus evil. Harry Potter ought to be banned because all witchcraft is evil! In short light sabers are good… magic wands are evil. It’s okay to kill Darth Vader but it doesn’t matter if you’re battling Lord Voldemort who is evil.
  • The film “The Last Temptation of Christ” ought to be banned because it would dare to suggest that Jesus was never tempted by sex. This is despite the fundamental dogma that Jesus was not only divine but he was human in every way. Of course the opposition to this film was vehemently stated without ever having seen the film itself.
  • People who have a vasectomy or tubal ligation have engaged in self-mutilation because they cannot control their baser instincts.

Those stances were held by priests who I consider to be very good friends then and now. They are men of God for whom I have the greatest respect. However they… like Obama’s grandmother and mine are products of their time and upbringing. They’re a part of my heritage and history and while I completely disagree with them I cannot disown them.

There have been other things that priests I know have said and done which have caused me to lose complete respect for them personally but I managed not to take it out on the Catholic Church in general. I continue to worship in the Catholic faith despite its many flaws.

Even the horrendous cover-up of the whole child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church which is a major embarrassment has its roots in its history and heritage that cannot be denied. In the face of the Protestant Reformation the church became fanatical about the idea that the Church must be seen as a pillar of perfection. Therefore any imperfections have to be hidden from public view at all cost. That’s an insane and inadequate defense for the cover-up but it is an explanation that makes a twisted kind of sense no matter how misguided that is.

In conclusion I think the real strength of Senator Obama’s speech yesterday was not what he said about race or religion or politics. It was that he touched a chord that resonates with virtually everyone. Our ability to love friends, leaders, and institutions despite their most aberrant flaws is a real paradox. But it’s part of the human condition and it’s something that we ought to appreciate, recognize, and honor.