Saturday, June 25, 2011

Health scare

I'll never forget that moment a few weeks ago. The love of my life (at her request, she shall remain nameless) called and said she was at the emergency room with our son. She sounded drunk, her voice slurry and words coming slowly, but she explained that she was having vision problems and didn't quite feel right. And then, as I asked her more, she said, "uhh... uhh..." And then the line went dead.

I didn't know what had happened, but I feared the worst as I put on a pair of slippers and banged on my neighbor's door to ask for a ride to the hospital. It's funny, but my brain seems to function well in times of crisis. I remained calm through the whole time of transit, even though I went through every potential scenario, including the prospect of death and having to raise our son alone. I didn't know her condition.

When I arrived at the emergency room, I identified myself to the attendant and asked, "Is she conscious?" When he told me she was, a great wave of relief passed over me. After checking on our son, who was being watched by his neighbors in the waiting area, we both went back to visit his mother.

She was hooked up to an IV and a monitor displayed all of her vital signs. The first thing I noticed was her blood pressure, which was 168/90, and even I, with my scant medical knowledge, knew that was very high. She was still out of it, seemed half asleep, and her skin was pale, even by Scandinavian standards.

The first thing I thought was, "She had a stroke." So I asked her to smile. She did, and it was even. Another wave of relief. Turns out I was partly right.

She had stroke-like symptoms, but not a full-blown stroke. She had a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke. The good news is there is no lasting damage from a TIA. The bad news is she is 20 times more likely to have a stroke in the future.

Blood clots and high blood pressure run in her family, and a previous trip to the emergency room a couple years ago with chest pains, meant the TIA wasn't a major surprise. But it still scared us both. We're too young to be dealing with such serious health problems. We need to be strong to take care of our children and parents. These are the productive years, full-on adulthood. Not a time for convalescence.

She was admitted to the hospital overnight and even stayed the next night for further tests. The cause of the TIA was never determined. Recent appointments with a neurologist and cardiologist revealed nothing. She was not put on any medicine, but told to take an aspirin each day, give up caffeine, and begin a regular exercise regimen. I'd tell to worry less, but know that's impossible. Certain personality traits are ingrained.

It's been such a strange summer so far. Distant friends and associates the same age as me have died. I just found out a guy I hiked with on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2004 died in a tragic bike accident a year ago. He left behind a widow and four-year-old daughter. Even though I've had a few health scares of my own, I am still young and healthy and ostensibly have many more years ahead of me. But you never know when your time is due. That's why the Latin dictum Carpe Diem rings so true.

Live. LIVE! Each moment is precious. Far too soon all of it will be taken away. It eventually happens to us all. We hang on to this existence by the thinnest of threads.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dr. Bronner's controversy

I first discovered Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap over 10 years ago, when it was only available in health food stores and organic co-ops. It has since gone mainstream and I just bought a quart bottle of 18-in-1 Hemp Lavender Pure-Castile Soap at Walgreen's. In addition to being a great read (nearly every bit of space on bottle delineates in repetitive detail Dr. Bronner's All-One philosophy), the soap is one of the most ecological and dermatologically friendly products out there. While it is true the original Dr. Bronner escaped from a mental hospital and is a counterculture hero/nutball, he comes from a long family tradition of soapmakers. And since his death, the company he brought to America has kept its leftist edge and unique label.

As I showcased in a previous blog post , there is a documentary about the man, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, and apparently Dr. Bronner, who died in 1997, sounds as nutty as the text on his soap.

It is rare to see such wackiness attached to a popular consumer good. I can think of no other mainstream product that is as "out there" as Dr. Bronner's soap. It goes against everything that consumer culture says should work in advertising. Most products take a bland middle road and are not involved in politics or activism of any sort. Or, if they are, they do half-assed "fundraising" efforts for popular charities.

It gets even weirder. In 2007 a drummer in a punk rock band was arrested in California because his Dr. Bronner's soap tested positive for an illegal date rape drug, GHB, using a the NarcoPouch® 928 field drug tests. But as the following video shows, all natural soaps, as opposed to detergent-based soaps, will test positive using the Narcopouch kit.

Check out the Dr. Bronner web site . In addition to having all the products for sale, there are links and articles related to the lax rules about organic labeling in the cosmetics industry. It's nice to buy a product that is not only the best of its kind, has a bona-fide crazy behind its creation, but is also good for the environment and socially conscious as well.

Still, I wouldn't recommend brushing your teeth with the stuff.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Naked Hiking Day!

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and the first day of summer. Right now it 8:13 p.m. and pretty dark, but only because a major thunderstorm is brewing outdoors. In long-distance hiking circles, the first day of summer is also Naked Hiking Day. And as the drops fall and the sky turns a sickly yellow, punctuated by bolts of lightning and thunder roar, I can't help getting nostalgic about my past participation in Naked Hiking Day.

I wrote about Naked Hiking Day exactly five years ago, so instead of regurgitating my own two experiences as a participant, here are the links to my trail journals for those days.

Appalachian Trail
Pacific Crest Trail

There is also a discussion thread about naked hiking, although a cursory examination shows it caters to the nudist crowd. I've got nothing against nudists and may embrace their minimalist philosophies, but am not a nudist myself. There's a seedy underbelly to the movement that's a bit too kinky for my tastes. But all the power to them. Let it all hang out!

Here's a short, funny video. Don't worry, it only shows some middle-aged dude's hairy butt!

Monday, June 20, 2011

RIP Dusty

Ever done something long, long, ago that still makes you flush crimson with embarrassment when you think of it?

Unfortunately, I've got a few of those memories. I guess it means I've lived an unabashed, unafraid existence, and that most of my youth and young adulthood I acted frequently on impulse. But I've been lucky. There's no arrest record to answer to and nobody has a bounty on my head. At least as far as I know. And as age 40 creeps closer on the near horizon, the number of embarrassing mistakes has diminished significantly.

But news of the death of someone I marched in drum and bugle corps and attended junior high and high school with reminded me of an embarrassment that later helped change my views about homosexuals and homosexuality. Dusty was gay and when I was in high school I called him a "faggot." As far as gay-bashing goes, that's quite tame, especially in light of the treatment that many small-town gays suffer. But taken in the context of who Dusty was and what he did for me, my calling him a "faggot" was one of the worst things I've ever done.

Many people know that I was never really that popular in high school. I didn't feel any sense of belonging until my senior year. Once, in junior high, a group of bigger kids were picking on me, shoving me around in a circle. Dusty stood up for me. He broke up the group and interrupted them long enough to let me escape. Time has erased most of the details from my memory, but I do remember him standing up for me. He probably knew what it felt like to be picked on, though I remember him being popular and well-liked in high school. He certainly must have known what it was like to be misunderstood. I don't know what his motivation was for standing up for me, but he did, and I never forgot, even though I never became his friend.

Nor do I remember much about the actual incident of the slur I said against him. I just remember hearing a rumor that he was involved in a relationship with another man, a drum corps instructor. And at the time I attended church regularly and was caught up in the silly Old Testament doctrines against homosexuality. I just remember that when I said it, I instantly regretted it because I knew he had stood up for me once, and that I'd repaid his kindness with scorn.

But as the years have gone on, and I've grown tolerant and accepting of gays and support gay rights, I am less embarrassed about what I said. After all, teenagers are malleable creatures and can adhere to some silly viewpoints that are only seen as such in retrospect.

No. What hurts most is that I never said, "I'm sorry." I've gone to drum corps shows over the years and have looked for Dusty, just so I could say that. No doubt he doesn't remember the incident. I needed to say it, not for his sake, but mine. But now I'll never get the chance.

And what's even stranger is I know no details of his life since high school, or his death. All I know is he had no Internet presence to speak of. No Facebook or Twitter, no photos, nothing but generic people search web sites. The guy had a non-existent web presence. I found out about his death from a mutual classmate and Facebook friend.

The mystery of his life and death is almost as galling as knowing that I'll never be able to apologize for a 21-year-old slur.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Running narrative, Unlimited Performance 5K

On June 4, after spending the previous night at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, with my significant other's permission to leave her side, I wearily made my way down the road from the hospital to the starting line for the Unlimited Performance 5K race. Obviously, with a loved one in the hospital, my mind was elsewhere, and I didn't have the best night's sleep on a cot in a hospital room, with nurses coming in every couple hours to take blood or other bodily fluids.

Plus, the morning was hot and steamy. Daytime temps would eventually get up in the mid 90s F. But this was only a 5K race. I could run 3.11 miles at the drop of a hat. But with all that was on my mind, I went into the race with no clear strategy. I just wanted to finish, get a shower, and get back to my honey in the hospital.

The first mile went by fast, as I clocked in at 7:34, but then the heat started to get to me and I faded the rest of the race. The finish line was exciting, as three of us raced in a dead heat down the final stretch. Unfortunately, I came in last out of us three. Still, it was neat to hear the cheers of those standing by at the finish line. My goal was to finish in under 25 minutes. Even though I didn't achieve it at 26:12.5, I certainly didn't do too bad, finishing in the top third of all finishers (56th out of 184) and in the top half of my age group (7th out of 20).

Overall and age group results are below. My next race is June 25, a 10K starting at Sycamore Speedway and with a route along the Great Western Trail. It should be fun!

Here are the overall results:

Here are the results by age group: 5

Nature is everywhere

I haven't had the chance to go on a backpacking trip yet in 2011, and if I don't get one in before I get a job, this year may be the first in a very long time that I don't get back to nature for at least a week-long outing. No worries, though, because my finely-honed senses find the beauty of nature everywhere. Even though no advertising campaigns herald its wonders, and it goes unnoticed by the vast and ignorant population unconsciously bent on destroying it, nature is manifest and wonderful.

Here are a couple videos I took in the city of DeKalb, Illinois, about 60 miles west of Chicago. One is of barn swallows diving into a chimney, just outside the back door fire escape of my room above the defunct Fargo Theatre. The swallows are a common scene at dusk in the city. I love to listen to their chittering, and their flight rivals the most daring feats of aviation man has ever achieved. They are fast, precise, and social creatures.

The second video was taken during a lunch break at the truck yard for Kishwaukee Community College, which is surrounded by an industrial park. Hundreds of thousands of tadpoles give life and vibrancy to a wasteland. I hope the frogs they become are not deformed. They're destined to make a lovely chorus in late summer.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Why get fit?

I read an article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune about the unrealistic portrayal of manly fitness in summer blockbuster movies. It featured various actors, including Eric Bana and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, detailing some of the workout and diet regimens they went through to get ready for a particularly beefy role.

But what stood out from this article was a quote by author and Harvard University instructor Emily Fox-Kales, who wrote Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders.

"As men have lost more economic power, more social power, they've wanted to look more pumped up," Fox-Kales said. "Muscles have become an accessory, like pickup trucks."

The article says that the latest trend in the summer Hollywood blockbuster season is beefy men, such as the movie depictions of comic book heroes like Thor and Captain America. This is a change from an interest in smaller heroes, such as those portrayed by slight actors like Tobey Maguire and Orlando Bloom.

As an unemployed ex-English teacher transitioning from an emasculated profession to the more manly job of truck driver, I didn't realize my recent weightlifting was part of a Hollywood trend, or that maybe my decision to beef up could be due to my economic condition. But when I think more deeply into the thought processes that went into my decision to lift weights again, a desire to go from helpless to empowered is a huge factor behind it.

I left teaching feeling like a pawn thrust about by a great machine, unappreciated, undesirable, and left to a cruel and indifferent marketplace. I also came to realize that, hey, I'm not getting any younger, and I've never seen myself really fit before. Sure, I've been thin and maintained a healthy body weight most of my adult life, but I'd never incorporated a regular exercise routine into my daily habits. I knew I needed to start now before I got any fatter than the alarming 240 pounds I reached, or I wouldn't be able to do the same activities, such as tennis, disc golf, and backpacking, that I've enjoyed throughout my 20s and 30s.

Plus, unlike the cruel machinations of the employment market, my body is something I have control over. Working out gives me discipline and a sense of accomplishment. Achieving fitness goals gives me the self confidence to ace that next interview and the energy to be a better partner, dad, and, yeah, employee.

I may never be as ripped as Sylvester Stallone or Ah-nold, but I feel good about exercising and gain confidence each time I step out of the weight room feeling twitchy and tired. And, hey, it's trendy. I'm growing my hair out too. Maybe I am destined to be the next Thor! By Mjölnir!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Time changes everything

Yesterday I watched a half hour long documentary about DeKalb, "Our Town," filmed by Clark C. Cryor. It was filmed in 1967, or a little more than 44 years ago. Many of the places shown in building, including parts of the Northern Illinois University campus and downtown, look the same now as they did in 1967. This is limited to the buildings, because trees, cars, street lights, and signs all look different now.

In addition to the obvious differences in fashion and social standards (for example, the mayor and the city council were showcased and all referred to as "men of vision," a statement that would be politically incorrect today), I was surprised to see how many wires cluttered the skyline. One shot in a neighborhood in the north side of town looked to be a sea of wires and poles. Added to the mix were the television antennas. I'd forgotten how much of our utilities have moved underground since then.

Other places, even though they were identified in the documentary, looked completely unfamiliar. One shot on North First Street showed two lanes of traffic and children walking on a dirt path along the road. I must have watched this scene five or six times to try and place its location, and couldn't. The narrator said the city was looking into putting sidewalks in, which they eventually did.

And even though downtown DeKalb looked familiar, especially the buildings and train tracks, none of the business names remained. I looked up one prominent restaurant name, the Sea Breeze, and learned that the owner of this restaurant eventually moved to Galena, IL, and bought another restaurant, The Log Cabin, in the 1970s, which is still open to this day. But every other downtown business that existed in 1967 is gone today.

The documentary also showed footage of a group of men from DeKalb visiting Kalamazoo, Michigan, and seeing how this city closed down its main downtown street and opened a pedestrian mall. I guess DeKalb considered doing the same thing, possibly re-routing Lincoln Highway traffic south of the main drag. But this never happened.

As I walked around town today, I wondered what the city will look like 40 years in the future, and even how much it has changed in the 15 years that I've been associated with DeKalb. And as I looked at the footage of skinny ties, crew cuts, men wearing suits to casual functions, and smoking indoors, I wonder what contemporary habits will make people of the future shake their in wonder at the naivete and stupidity of those people of 2011.

Here are a few predictions. In light of recent findings, people of the future will marvel that the people of 2011 used cell phones that caused brain cancer, and that such clunky devices only transmitted sound and images. In the future, telecommunications will be more like telepathy. There will be no visible interface devices. Implants or the tiniest of microchips will fulfill all of our communication needs.

Also, people of the future will laugh at our dietary habits. They will not believe that we allowed corporations to dupe us into eating such unhealthy, processed, and chemically-laden food. They will note how inefficient our agricultural practices were and how out-of-tune we were with our environment. They will also not believe how much we were duped by the pharmaceutical industry into spending so many billions of dollars on medicines that only masked major problems and caused awful side effects.

Of course, people of the future will scoff at our use of fossil fuels to power our automobiles and provide electricity. Forty years from now they may still be used, but not by industrialized Western nations. Our energy usage will need to become more environmentally sustainable to avoid economic collapse and further ecological degradation. Our current practices are cannot continue for 40 more years.

NOTE: Click on the link above for a list of films created by Clark C. Cryor from the 1950s to the 70s. He died in 1977. Most of these films are available on DVD at the DeKalb Public Library.