Month: March 2017

“No, I got a D in calculus.”

image2 (2)Our son, Byron, is a smart guy.  But, growing up, he was not big on school.  He much preferred to spend his time reading books.  I don’t know how many times he read the Civil War epic, Rifles for Watie.  And he almost certainly doesn’t either.

It drove us, and particularly his mother, nuts to be aware of his wasted potential.  We tried a private, alternative high school for a while.  It was a goofy waste of money.  I suggested that we send him to a military academy in Kansas-my wife vetoed that idea.

When he got older and could learn to drive, we thought that preventing him from getting his license might motivate him.  Wrong.  He sat in his room and read.  And brought home, at best, uneven report cards.  Some A’s and B’s, a sprinkling of D’s and F’s.  We gave up on the license thing when it dawned on my wife that if he didn’t learn to drive before he went to college-if any of them would accept him-he would be learning to drive from other college kids.  Probably not the best teachers.  We surrendered, he won.  But he never seemed to really be all that interested in driving anyway.

He ended up going to Miami of Ohio-talk about a university with a geographic identity crisis.  Why a school of its caliber would accept him I don’t know.  Well, actually, I do: they wanted our money.

As he did at Cherry Creek High School, he played in the marching band.  We went back for parents’ weekend and were there for the homecoming football game.  Those were the glory days of RedHawk football-Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback.  So we got to see our son march at half-time.  And Big Ben win the game.

But it was all pretty much down hill from there.  Toward the end of the spring semester, we got a letter from Byron’s room mate informing us that he almost never went to class and did very little besides stay in the dorm room playing computer games.  The room mate also reported that he had to work to pay his way through school.  The kid was justifiably angry that Byron was not even warming a chair in class while he was working his fanny off.

When I picked up Byron at DIA that spring I showed him the letter.  “What do you have to say about this?  Is this what’s going on?”  My voice quavered with anger as we drove along Pena Boulevard.  He didn’t deny the contents of the letter.  I told him, “We’re done with this.  If you want to keep going to school, you’re picking up the tab yourself.”

A few minutes of stoney silence passed before he said, “I went to see the Navy recruiter recently.  I think I’m going to join the Navy.”

“Right,” I replied, still upset, “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“I actually took the the military IQ test, the ASVAB, and got the highest available score.  They’re recruiting me into the Navy’s nuclear program.”

“Well,” I replied, “that sounds like it could be a good plan.  But you’re going to have to prove to us that you’re serious.”

But, skeptic though I was, a few weeks later a couple of impressive, ram rod straight Naval recruiting officers were sitting around our kitchen table.  I was a pretty easy sale.  My wife was tougher; she was afraid that they would pull the old bait-and-switch on him and he would wind up chipping paint on old hulks.  Nonetheless, a few months later, and after an emotional going away dinner, the recruiters showed up late one evening to take Byron downtown to be sworn in.

The next we heard from him was a frantic call from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center:  “I’m here.  I’m ok.  And I have to go.”  Click.

It was demanding, but he did well in basic training.  The fact that I was only seconds from missing my flight to Chicago to see him graduate from basic still haunts me, but I made it and the ceremony was suitably impressive.  We enjoyed a great weekend in Chi Town together.

He continued to excel through the various training schools.  The nuclear power training school curriculum is enough to make my head explode-you look at it and decide if you think you can pass.  I couldn’t have.

From there, he opted for submarines and helped run the reactor for several years on the USS Nebraska, a ballistic missile sub.  I joined the Big Red Sub Club and, in that capacity, was able to go on a one day ride along as the submarine returned from one of its 77 day patrols to its base in Bangor, Washington.

After eight years of outstanding Navy service, Byron finished as a Petty Officer, First Class.  The letter his mother and I received from his commanding officer announcing the promotion is impressive and, framed, hangs in my office.  He has a shadow box laden with commendations, medals, ribbons and pins.

On the strength of his naval record, and the recommendation of a fellow bubble head, Byron got a job with Google at their data center near Omaha after he mustered out of the Navy.  Again, regular promotions.  They’ve sent him around the country and from Finland to Ireland on various assignments.

I used to like to tell folks that “The only class that our son passed in college was marching band.”  And then go on to tell them how well he had done in the Navy-and now at Google.

However, one time Byron heard me say that and corrected me:  “No, dad, I got a D in calculus.”

I stand corrected.

On Pins and Needles

I served on the Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee when I represented Centennial in the Colorado House.  One of the many bills we heard dealt with ear acupuncture.  The testimony, which I initially took with a grain of salt-actually, a truck load of salt-was that sticking pins in the ears of someone suffering from mental illness could effect a cure.  Or at least relieve the symptoms.

But I began to sit up and take notice when the witnesses, including a woman named MK Christian, began talking about the work they were doing at the state mental hospital in Pueblo.  She made it sound as if they were having considerable success.  And, when more conventional, allopathic doctors supported their claims, it really got my attention.  They said it helped the patients sleep better and reduced their dependence on medication.

I am bipolar.  As is fairly typical, I originally manifested the illness as a young adult in my early 20s.  While Churchill’s black dog of depression was my more usual companion, I had bouts of mania as well.  External events often contribute to and exacerbate the mood swings, which was certainly the case with me.

In my early 20s I broke up with a long time girl friend.  I was desperate, suicidal, broken on the rock of my sin.  I wondered into a church and, less than an hour later, came out as a newly minted Christian.  It was as if someone had popped the top of a champaign bottle; I was effervescent.

Unfortunately, a few days later I went on a pheasant hunting trip with my father and some of his friends.  Believe it or not, guns and mania don’t work all that well together.  No one got hurt, but my father, understandably, was deeply concerned with some of my bizarre behavior.  On our return to Denver, my folks had me involuntarily committed.  I was driven to the Mount Airy Psychiatric hospital in the back of a Denver sheriff squad car.

It was, no doubt, the right thing to do.  But I felt like a blood brother to McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  They put me on medication, I was compliant in the “group” sessions, and met with the psychiatrist, Dr. Walker, whose testimony had convinced the probate court to commit me.  But when I got out two weeks later, I’d had enough of the drugs.  And didn’t believe I need more counseling.  In fact, I really thought that it was my parents that should be seeing a shrink.

So, like many in my situation, I quit taking the medication.  And seeing Dr. Walker.

It was a very long and winding road from there to the point when, in my 50s, that I finally was willing to admit I needed help.  It began with another bout of mania that reduced my two wonderful daughters to tears.  Which, predictably, was followed by a visit from the snarling black dog.   But it was still a struggle for my long suffering wife to persuade me to try to find a psychiatrist. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for my former partner, he had a son with similar, but even more severe problems-so he was able to refer me to a Dr. Jay Carlson.  Smart, with a gentle and yet probing sense of humor, it didn’t take Dr. Carlson long to get me on a course of medication that worked-most of the time.  And which didn’t have too many side effects.

So, by the time that I heard the bill on auricular acupuncture,  I certainly knew enough about the illness to be aware that adequate sleep was an important component to keeping the beast at bay.  When the testimony was over, I found MK in the crowded hallway outside the committee room and asked for her card.

Within a few days I was  in her quaint old Victorian on Franklin Street, laying face down on a table, staring at the floor through a head rest while she kept up a reassuring patter as she put needles in my scalp, ears, neck, back and ankles.  “There,” she said with what I soon learned was characteristic enthusiasm, “that will be a good treatment for you, guy!  Now, you rest!”  With that, she dimmed the lights, put a heat lamp on my feet, and turned on some soothing music on the Bose.

I woke up about an hour later.  I don’t think I was drooling-or snoring-that time.  But I know that on subsequent treatments I have done both.

How does it work?  I have no idea.  I’m not really convinced that MK does either.  My daughter, when she couldn’t get pregnant, was referred to an acupuncturist by one of the high tech, high cost infertility clinics she and her husband had begun seeing.   They got pregnant with acupuncture instead.  And now they have a second little daughter-and this time without any intervention.  One time, I asked MK,  “How does acupuncture help with infertility?”  Her answer?  “I’m not really sure.”

Has acupuncture “cured” my bipolar?  No.  I still take daily medication.  And, especially in the dark days of winter, the black dog can still nip at my heels.  But I do think that it helps me sleep better.

And, by the way, on a wall of her clinic there is a picture of MK looking over the shoulder of Governor Hickenlooper as he signed the auricular acupuncture bill into law.



Surprised By History

My wife and I are in the process of purchasing a condo in Silverthorne, Colorado.

The paperwork is enough to make my head spin.  Maybe not as alarmingly as the scene in The Exorcist.  But plenty enough for me, who is a real coward when it comes to scary movies-and to reams of incomprehensible legal forms.

I was plowing through the title insurance documents the other night.  The title dated all the way back to a hand written land grant signed by President William McKinley on January 10, 1901.  An anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, assassinated McKinley in September of that year.

But while this was was interesting, it was not what caught my attention.  It was an assignment of wages from a Charles and Laura Anthony to an E.A. Theobald that caused me to sit up and take notice.

I went to Graland Elementary school with a Robin Theobald.  And I knew that his family had roots in the Breckenridge area, just up the Blue River and across Lake Dillon from Silverthorne.

I knew that the Theobald in the land deed had to be one of Robin’s ancestors.

I remember very distinctly a “hobby fair” that we had in second grade.  The assignment was to bring to school a display of what you did as a hobby.  Since I really didn’t have one other than reading, I was at a loss as to what to do.  Then, in desperation, I stayed up until the wee hours the night before the fair putting together a card board diorama of our school library and hammering out a couple of book reports.  One of which was “Stuart Little,” complete with my childish drawing of Stuart’s sail boat gliding over the Central Park pond with little “v” shaped gulls floating overhead.  I still feel that, somehow, I pulled one over on the judges when they awarded me second prize.

First prize, hands down, went to Robin.  He had a display of mining gear that would have done many museums proud:  old picks and shovels, head lamps, pans, sluice boxes, candle holders, cast iron skillets, gas masks and hard hats, rock drill bits, worn rocking chairs.  It really was impressive.  And he collected it in his summer rambles through the hills of the Breckenridge gold mining district.

So, I googled Robin.  Sure enough, in the Summit Daily there was at least two articles about him and his wife Patty; they still live in Breckenridge.  In fact, they pretty much seem to run the place.  He has done everything from working in an underground mine, to managing the local radio station, to restoring historic buildings, serving on a local planning commission, and organizing 4th of July fireworks.  A real home town guy, and proud of it.

I plan to look him up when we finally get this crazy loan closed in Silverthorne.




12 Gallons

I made a whole blood donation again at the Lowery Bonfils location last week.  As I left, the lady at the front desk gave me my 15 gallon lapel pin.  Boy, did I ever feel dizzy after that donation!  (And, if you don’t know I’m shining you on, do I ever have a bridge in Brooklyn you’re going to like.)

Fifteen gallons.  Eight pints a gallon.  That’s 120 donations.  And, since they don’t allow whole blood donations more frequently that every two months, that’s at least 20 years.  And, in reality, a good deal more than that since I missed my every other month blood letting, for one reason or another, on a fairly routine basis.

I can actually be a good deal more precise about how long it took me to get that 12 gallon pin because I didn’t start donating on a regular basis until I met a woman in the D.U. law library named Barbara Euser in about 1977.  That’s 40 years ago.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I know that she now calls Greece home and that she is a very active in group devoted to protecting a body of water named Vatika Bay.  And the oceans in general.  And, at least judging by her Facebook “likes,” it is safe to say that we have diverged philosophically nearly as far as we have diverged geographically.

To help pay for law school, Barbara worked behind the check out counter in the library.  For some reason, she told me that she occasionally donated blood a few blocks away at the old Denver General Hospital.  That, along with her extensive mountaineering experience, impressed me.  And, not wanting to be shown up by a woman, I was a push over for opening my veins; I was filling out the requisite paperwork at the Denver General Blood Bank before the week was out.

The form in those early years was innocent, simple and fit on a 3×5 inch index card:  name, address, weight, when did you last donate, do you feel well today?

It wasn’t long, however, before the questionnaire grew into a multiple page, legal size form. And took an ominous turn, asking questions about, what at the time, seemed to me astonishingly intimate details of the potential donor’s life:  sex with other men.

The AIDS epidemic had arrived in Denver, my home town, a place that I still regarded with a sort of willful naiveté.

The form continues to morph and metastasize; the latest questions are about the zika virus.  Now, on a hand held electronic tablet, it takes me at least 10 minutes to power through all the questions, even though I have been through them . . . . how many times?  And, rather than a donation room about the size of a walk-in closet off the main lobby at the old Denver General, Bonfils now operates out of its own, multi-story, state of the art facility at Lowery.

Yes, I still look away when the phlebotomist tells me the needle is about to go in.  But when they say “Slight poke,” I have never had reason to take issue with their prediction.

Bonfils latest branding slogan is, “You’re just our type.  Be a hero today.”  Well, hero may, in my estimation, be a bit of a stretch.  But there’s no doubt that someone, somewhere needs your blood.  So, if donating will make you feel like a hero, please be my guest.




The Christians.

My wife was out of town recently visiting our daughter’s family-especially our little grand daughter-in Spokane.  And, as the saying goes, “When the cat’s away, the mouse will play.”  I saw Lucas Hnath’s play, ‘The Christians‘ at the DCPA.

I feared that this would be yet another heavy handed depiction of sanctimonious, knuckle dragging Christians that is the usual fare at “high brow” theater.  But, I reasoned, at least I could be pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be the Evangelical treacle that Hollywood is occasionally churning out now.

I was pleasantly surprised all around. Yes, it depicts a day in the life of a mega-church.  But it takes a sympathetic look at all sides of a bruising church split.  It was anything but saccharine. But nor was it judgemental.    Instead, it was thoughtful and thought provoking.

It began with the stereotypical, impeccably coiffed head pastor enthusiastically praising the Lord-and his congregation-for successfully completing a huge fund raising campaign to retire the debt on their equally huge church.  The choir and “praise band” provides suitably upbeat musical accompaniment throughout.  And they really were good-I, along with most of the audience-occasionally joined in with song and clapping.

But then the story takes a very unexpected turn.

The pastor goes to the pulpit and declares that he has had a revelation and that “all roads lead to God.”  Yes, Jesus is the Savior.  But so is Mohammed. And the Buddha.  And any other deity you care to mention.  And, for those so inclined, no deity at all will do.

Before the sermon is even over, the fault lines of the impending schism break into the open.  The assistant pastor comes to the mic and declares, that while the head pastor played an instrumental role his own salvation, he can’t abide what he considers a clear deviation from Scripture.  A few minutes later, after an impassioned defense of Orthodoxy, he walks out of the sanctuary.  And the life of the church.

The head pastor comes back to the pulpit and fires up the praise band again.  But the dam is beginning to leak.  During a question and answer session that follows, a single mother (who has been tithing 20% of her meager income) asks the pastor if “My young son dies, will Hitler be with him in heaven?”

“Yes, I believe he will.”

It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  More and more of the congregation begins melting away.  Including the pastor’s wife, who admits in a congregational meeting, she doesn’t side with her husband. And never believed that all roads lead to heaven in the first place.

In the final scene, the head pastor, deflated, slumps on the stairs of the platform that had been the scene of so many high energy triumphs.  The sanctuary is empty and dark.

The play ends.  No pat answers for the audience.  Just an invitation to contemplate the questions that rattled around our heads as we, too, file out of the empty “church.”

“The Christians” run at the DCPA is over.  But should it come back around sometime, I recommend that you take it in.  I don’t believe that you will be disappointed.