DREAMS. Gotta love them.

We read a story in class yesterday called “Be-ers and Doers.” It’s a little family drama about a mom who expects more from her son and how that situation grows over the years until it comes to a head. Pretty standard fare as these things go, not a story I’m going to go to any great lengths to use in the future but not something I’m going to steer clear of. At the very end of the story, however, the narrator tells us that the son buys a house on a little farm, reads books and writes poetry, never gets married or has children, and lives pretty contentedly away from his mother. Then there’s this line: “He keeps an old rocker out of the edge of the cliff, where he can sit and watch the tides of Fundy rise and fall.”
My poor, befuddled brain being what it is, I immediately envisioned Sammy Hagar (the old rocker) being kept on the cliff’s edge for the son’s amusement. I know, weird.

But then the weird stuff shows up in our dreams. So last night/early this morning I dreamt that a limousine pulled up outside the front window of my house and that to incredibly beautiful ostriches came up to my window and looked inside. Instead of having little bitty heads, they had beautiful big cartoon heads; they had beautiful, white feathers and expressive beaks with lips that could smile. One seemed to have a necklace imprinting her neck feathers that I could not quite see but that I somehow knew would be beautiful. They came up to my window and looked inside, where I was sitting in my chair reading a book. They didn’t look like they wanted to come inside – in fact, one went around the side of the house for a few moments and I assumed she was having a pee break - so I just smiled and congeniality and watched the one who stood at the window smiling in at me. Then the other one returned and they walked back to the limousine. The door opened, and there was Sammy Hager dressed to the nines and looking really dapper. He motioned to the ostriches to get into the car, which they did, and then he waved at me and gave me a thumbs-up.

I have no idea what any of that means.

The Heart of the Matter

I am so sorry that I forgot to update.

So the week after my appointment with the cardiologist, I was scheduled for my echocardiogram. I went into the doctor's office, up to where they do those tests, and they used the ultrasound machine to try to get a picture of my heart and see what it was doing. Normally they have you lie on a bed – well, a table, really – when they use the machine because it makes it easier somehow (something to do with moving the heart closer to the outside of your chest I think). But their table was notably small – I know that all large number of people who come in for heart tests have got to be overweight, so I'm surprised that the table was not appreciably bigger – so I simply sat in my wheelchair as they did their best with their handheld ultrasound. I was very concerned that they weren't getting the right kinds of readings, and they told me that if the test did not show what they needed to see that I might have to go to the hospital for a procedure where they would put me to sleep and get a sensor directly onto my heart. I may be misremembering details.

Since I figured I would be going into the hospital for this procedure, I tried to skip out of my doctors appointment for the next week. But they said no, to go ahead and keep that appointment and meet with the cardiologist. I was kind of miffed, really, because I didn't want to pay the doctor forty dollars more just to have him tell me to go to the hospital. But I did what they said.

When I got to the doctor's office (this was last week now), I discovered that he was held up at the hospital and would be about an hour late. They said that I could wait or that I could speak with the Nurse Practitioner who worked with him. I know from experience that the Nurse Practitioners are essentially full-fledged doctors who wanted to make sure that their emphasis was on patient care – the "doctor" I see normally is actually a Nurse Practitioner – so I went ahead up to talk to her. I still ended up waiting about an hour.

Anyhow, enough narrative. She told me that the results of my echocardiogram were fine, that my heart was beating the way it was supposed to and looked the way it was supposed to. No worries, no problems. She told me I should make an effort to exercise in order to keep it working well and said that I had many years ahead of me. That was encouraging!

So all is well :-)

Why I Was at the Doctor

First, I don't want anyone to get too concerned. When I had my physical couple months ago, my doctor did an EKG and apparently didn't like something she saw because she scheduled an appointment for me with this cardiologist. It wasn't like an emergency that I had to go - I ended up moving the appointment from its original July 5 date to August 20 and then to today, September 10.

The cardiologist looked at the EKG report briefly (I really think this was a waste of a doctor visit and forty dollars) and said he wanted to schedule me for an "echo," which I suppose means echocardiogram. He said it seemed the right side of my heart might be a little enlarged and wants to check it out. I said something about my being so fat, but he dismissed that: He said that this was aside from my weight.

Diana's very worried, but I'm not let myself get all twisted up yet. I figure if it were an emergency, he would've told me go to the hospital right away, he would've insisted they run the echocardiogram before I left the office, or something.

I'm not suffering any sort of chest pain. My blood pressure is good. My heart rate was a little elevated. I really think this is just one of those things are double checking to be sure it's not a problem: being as old as I am and is obese as I am, they're trying to make sure that I don't develop a heart problem.

So right now it's wait-and-see. I'll post more when I know more.

The funny part, to me, is that I had been joking with Diana this morning that the problem was probably that my heart had grown two sizes too big because I have so much love for her. Then for it to be a problem where the heart is too big – is kind of interesting timing.

Good Thing I Speak French

I had to go to the doctor's office this morning because my primary care physician didn't care for something she saw my EKG. I got there early because I lost the paperwork they had mailed and wanted to be sure I got it filled out before my appointment time at 930. As I waited in the waiting room after filling out my paperwork, a couple other patients wandered in. One of them was a mid-30s black woman whose shirt button had unfortunately come undone, and I battled within myself whether I should bother telling her or not. I mean, it was a nice thing to do (I think), but at the same time I didn't want to come across as pervy. There were two women in front of her, and the receptionist was a woman; I figured I would just let one of them tell her. I mean, it was pretty obvious.

But they said nothing. And so I thought, well, what would I want someone to do if our positions were reversed. And I decided to go ahead and tell her, quietly so as to avoid embarrassment.

I said, "Ma'am?" She looked at me and I motioned to her to come closer; when she did, I said quietly, "Your shirt button has come undone" and I motioned on my own shirt to the place where her button had come undone.

She looked at me and said "No," then returned to her place in line. I shrugged it off; I figured maybe she didn't have a button on her shirt for some reason.

A few moments later, a black man came in and set down in one of the chairs. I wondered if it was her husband, and sure enough she said something to him. In French. And he walked back out of the room, I think to get something from the car.

I looked back at her as she stood in line, still bothered about the button (I promise I wasn't trying to seek a glance), and saw that she did indeed have a button on her shirt. So I decided to try again, this time in French.

"Excusez-moi, madame. Parlez-vous francais?"

She looked at me and arched her eyebrows, carefully said, "Oui."

I knew that I didn't know all the words in French to say what I was trying to say, but I came up with something along the lines of "Dans la chemise..." I motioned again. "La bouton ... est ouvert." And she looked down and saw what I was talking about and thanked me as she hurriedly buttoned up.

"Oh, merci"

"Pas de quoi."

And then she started speaking to me in French. So I had to confess, "Je ne parle pas francais bien. Un peu seulement. Je suis desole." So she searched for the words in English to tell me that she didn't understand me at first and she thanked me so much for telling her. I said "De rien" a couple times and then mercifully the nurse called me back into the office.

So that's my story. I got to use my halting French for a positive reason. What I can stop wondering, though, is what she said "No" to when I first tried to tell her about the button. As I'm pinching the middle of my shirt between my breasts, saying something she doesn't understand – she says "No." I hate to think what she thought of me then, so I'm glad that I was able to turn it around at the end.

The Best

This idea -- this realization -- just woke me up. It's worth considering in more detail later on.

I have always wanted to be the best, to do the best, to have the best.

The Diet

The first week was pretty much hit and miss with the diet. It's the Herbalife diet again. When I went to the doctor last week, I was delighted to find that all over the entire summer – during which we were not using Herbalife – I only gained 3 pounds. I was guessing that I had gained about twenty.

Along with this, we've given up being red meat. I know it is better for my heart and my blood pressure as well as for my weight. Diana and I agreed that we were not good to punish ourselves if we decided to go get a hamburger (which we did, on Saturday, at Red Robin), but for the most part we're sticking to chicken. I like fish better than she does, but I am sure we will get the occasional piece of salmon as well.

Anyhow, I asked to be pretty much excused from lunches this week. This is the last week that I'll be able to go to lunch, since school starts next week again, and there are a few places I genuinely like to go. Yesterday, for example, I went to Moe's for their Monday special.

Originally, I had planned to go to the Chinese buffet on Thursday. Diana does not like Chinese food and I love it, so I figured Thursday was a great day to get it. But she has decided to take Thursday and Friday off this week, to spend with me before school starts again, so that plan has been kiboshed.

Why I am saying all of this is this: I had a victory today. I had to go to the veterinarian, which is back by the old house, and that’s where my favorite Chinese restaurant is. So I thought I would go ahead and go to the Chinese buffet today instead. However, Diana had made me my shakes for breakfast and lunch already, and I also did not want my shake to go bad for lunch. So I thought, hmm, maybe what I’ll do is go to the Chinese buffet for lunch, and then come home and have my shake. Diana will never know, and I’ll get the best of both worlds. Sure, I would increase my calorie intake today, but – who would know?

Well, I would know, that’s who. And so as I drove there, as I thought about what I planned to do, I talked myself out of it. I decided that I did not need the Chinese buffet that bad, and to go there would be a weakness. As I wrote a couple days ago, I’m going to have to be filled with self-loathing in order for this to be successful, so I reminded myself how much I would hate myself if I gave in and went to the Chinese buffet today. Now again, I can go to the Chinese buffet this week, but not on a day that I already have a shake made. You see?

So I did not go to the Chinese buffet, and I went to the veterinarian instead. Between the two points, I decided that what I could do - something that would not be too far off my diet – would be to go to McDonald’s and have one of their premium chicken wraps. Those are pretty good, and I am allowed to have a snack if I’m hungry, and I thought that would be fairly reasonable. But when I got to McDonald’s after the vet, the line was very long. I waited in the line for a couple cars, and during that time I convinced myself that I just didn’t need it. What I needed to do was come home and have my shake.

And that’s what I did. I did not have anything at all to eat on the way home. In fact, I have not had anything to eat all day. I had my breakfast shake, and I had my lunch shake, and I drank a couple bottles of water (water is very important on this diet). And that’s it. No Chinese buffet. No McDonald’s premium chicken wrap. Nothing. I’m very proud of myself.

I’m also very hungry. I wonder where she wants to go for dinner tonight. I’m hoping for Ruby Tuesday.


I need some advice. Anyone with any sort of legal knowledge or business acumen can probably help. I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done.

I wrote last month about having problems with the Internet company that DirecTV attempted to bundle me with. In a nutshell, when we moved I decided to just make life “convenient” by bundling together my television and Internet packages, and after I scheduled the transfer of service with DirecTV I asked them to connect me with their Internet department. They connected me with Exede, and I spoke with their customer service representative who assured me that the 10 GB package would be enough based on what I described my needs to be. They verbally asked me to agree to a two-year contract, which I did because I thought that was pretty much standard; DirecTV also has a two-year commitment. And the day after we moved in, their installation man got the house set up for Internet.

I used the computer as I usually do – mostly Facebook and email, no downloading or video streaming – and when I called the next day to see if there was a way that I could track usage, I discovered that I had already used 2.4 GB of the 10 GB I was allowed per month. Obviously, this was not going to suffice. So I called the company and explained the situation to them and asked to be let out of this contract. The CSR explained at the time that I was going to have to pay an early termination fee, and I explained at some length that I had only had service for one day and that since it was obviously insufficient for my needs I didn’t think it fair that they hold me to this contract, especially since – as far as I’m concerned – the person I spoke with first misrepresented their company to me. This CSR agreed to submit a waiver on my behalf to see what’s there corporate office would say.

Today I got a call from my bank alerting me to an unusual transaction, and this was the early termination fee charged by the company: about $350. I called and spoke to a CSR, who transferred me to floor supervisor (or something), who “researched my account” and explained that the waiver had been submitted and the corporate office has denied it. She explained that they “do not have a trial period.” I appealed to her as best I could, explaining again that I had only had service for one day and it was not the service that had been described to me during the telephone conversation when I set up service, but she could give me no further answer. Obviously, she also cannot advise me know what else I could do – it’s not her job to suggest ways I can get out of paying her company something.
So I’m asking you all. If I’m just out of luck, then tell me so. But if you have any advice of something I can do or try to do, then please let me know. I am really not trying to get out of anything in a sneaky way; it just doesn’t seem fair to me that I’m going to be charged $350 for something I had one day that did not live up to my expectations.

And it goes without saying that I advise you not to do business with Exede or WildBlue Communications. For that matter, I’m not sure I recommend you do business with DirecTV either they are the ones who recommended me to this company. I know the DirecTV is not directly responsible for this Internet company, but when I called and talked to them about the situation, they were rather dismissive with me. Again, perhaps is nothing that I can do, but...this just isn’t fair.


I posted to Facebook that I had been looking for some people from my past, people who may not even remember me now but for some reason their memories have stuck with me through the years. For example, there is a girl named Wendy that I was in elementary school with who was my intellectual rival. Without tooting my own horn, it would not be inaccurate for me to say that I was the most intelligent kid at Fletcher Elementary School in 1976, but Wendy always gave me a run for my money. I remember that she was a quiet girl, that she wore glasses, but little else. I think I remember her last name, but in just googling for her last name I find no one with that last name anywhere. So I may be mistaken, or I may have it misspelled, but anyhow I can't find her.

So part of my search involved going to Google and looking for the Tonawanda High School Class of 1985, to see if they had a list of students who graduated that year. Not only do they not, but the high school is apparently now a junior high, and there are no records of a 1985 class from that school. So I don't know what happened. Maybe all the students were bused to North Tonawanda High School.

I fired up Google Earth and look for the high school, and everything is just as I remembered it. That was kind of cool, going back and seeing the old neighborhood from this perspective. Looking at the computer right now, I can remember getting beat up on one corner by a boy named Kenny. I can remember how to get to the baseball field from my house. I can see my old house, and they have something in the backyard that I don't recognize and cannot see close enough to figure out what it is. There used to be a copse of trees between my house and the high school (the high school was just behind my house) that isn't there now. I remember during the Blizzard of 1977 that my friend and I were able to climb right on top of the high school because the snow was so high, and we jumped off of the roof into the snow. The snow was so high that we were able to climb over the tennis court fences (the tennis courts are still there, but they've been renovated). I can see the exact path that I walked to get home from school (that magically involved cutting through their high school's field and climbing over my back fence).

So looking at these images, I have been having little flashes of memory come back to me. As I said, I remember where I got beat up once. I remember at the high school that there was a classroom that had open windows, and the teacher in that classroom never seems to mind when my friend and I stopped to look in her windows. I can't remember how the teacher looked, but I remember there was a very nice teenager named Jenny in that classroom. I can't remember what she looked like either, and I can't remember her last name, and I can't really remember why I thought she was so nice – although I do recall once drawing for her a picture of a Stegosaurus - but I do remember her because of what somebody did. I think that this was perhaps my first realization that the world was an ugly place. One morning, as I was walking to school, I saw that someone had vandalized the building. I don't remember what else was spray-painted, but the vandal had very clearly written "Jenny (I can't remember her last name) is a slut!" I did not even know what a "slut" was, and I can't remember how I ever found out, but I could tell it was something bad. And when I did find out (really, I wonder who I asked - my teacher? my mom?) my immediate reaction was one of denial and outrage that anyone might have said such a nasty thing about another person. I said that I think this may have been my first realization that the world was ugly, but I think it may also be the first time I recognized my own sense of chivalry. Not that I could have done anything about it, not that I ever said anything to Jenny about it, but within my knight's chest I was ready to defend her.

I know it's silly, some little child's whimsy, but it's who I am. It's who I've always been, this rather chivalrous man. Looking through my 40-years-later lens, I wonder now what Jenny did upset that person so much. I mean, face it, she was singled out in someone's desecration of a building, her name put up publicly for anyone driving down the street to see – this was a pretty nasty thing. Did she sleep with someone's boyfriend? Did she break some poor guy's heart? Who knows.

And so somewhere out there is an almost 60-year-old woman – somebody's grandmother – who once had her name spray-painted on a building with an offensive slur. Does she ever think about that? Did she ever think about what she did to make that person so mad? I know she doesn't remember 8-year-old me. (But wouldn't it be a hoot if she did?)

A Great Teacher Passed Away

A great teacher passed away earlier this week. His wake is tonight and his memorial service is tomorrow. I won’t be able to attend either, sadly, for a variety of reason, but I was thinking about this man.

His name was Tom Lota, and he was the wrestling coach at the high school that I attended, East Bay High School. I never had him as a teacher, but I knew him because he was good friends with my drama teacher, who we all called Mom. Sometime after I graduated, they got married. To all of us who knew them, it was like a real love story, the kind of thing you’d read about in books.

I took drama all four years of high school, even won awards for it in my senior year. So I was very close to Mom. The year after I graduated, I went to work for Circle K, where the man she had been married to use to hang out and talk to the manager there. I never thought much of this man, always wondered how he had ever become Mom’s husband at all. I don’t know the details of all that, but they divorced and sometime later she married Tom. I had been out of school for a couple years, so I was out of touch, but I was very happy when I heard about this. I liked Tom Lota, and I thought Mom was probably pretty happy.

Years passed, you know how it is, and I eventually became a teacher myself. While I was substitute teaching, I got a gig at East Bay and made sure to drop in to say hi to Mom. She had no idea who I was when I walked in the door – I guess ten years on my part and 1500 students on her part can make someone a bit forgetful – but once I reminded her, she was happy to see me and we talked for a few minutes. Mom is one of the two or three most influential teachers I’ve ever had, and I let her know that. To be completely honest, I do not think I would be teaching today had I not taken drama those four years, and a big part of the reason that I am as compassionate as I am has everything to do with Mom.

I know that it was the same for Tom. As I said, Tom passed away this week after a battle with cancer. Because of Facebook, he and Mom were able to reestablish connections with many of their former students. My wife and I are two of those students. So when the announcement came that he had cancer, we knew about it right away. Someone – I’m not sure who, but I really appreciate what he did – created a special page to keep everyone up on the situation. We were all invited to the naming of that school’s gymnasium after Tom, and we heard stories about his chemotherapy, about his improving condition, about his weakening condition, about his hospice care, and then this week about his passing. Over the past few months as this has all been chronicled, many of Tom’s and Mom’s former students have had a chance to share memories, to wish them well, and to extend their condolences. But what it really boils down to is that we’ve all had a chance to tell them how much we love them and to say goodbye to Tom.

Not everyone gets that chance, to hear from people who love them about how wonderful they are, about what sort of impact they’ve had on their lives. So I am thankful that Tom got the opportunity to hear these things. I have heard that the outpouring of love and support was incredible.

At the same time, we do not always get a chance to tell people how much we appreciate them for all they have done for us. I think too many of us sit in that comfort zone of maybe-I’ll-thank-them-someday and then just never quite get around to it. And then someone passes away suddenly and the opportunity is lost.

I am feeling this quite severely because I am a teacher, but I had a chance to tell VanWagner, Goff, and Mom how much they meant to me. I did not get a chance to tell Giancarlo; he had retired by the time I returned to East Bay and perished before I thought of using the Internet to try to contact him. That one loss sits on me sometimes. He was a hero in his own regard, a very special man.

Anyhow, the whole purpose for this bit of writing is to ask you to do one thing: Thank a teacher. I don’t mean this in one of those vague Teacher Appreciation holiday type things. I mean that I want you to sit down and write or type a letter and to send it to that one (or two, or six) teacher whose influence you still feel quite strongly in your life, the one you can look back to and say “That teacher really made a difference in my life.”

Why bother, you may ask; will he or she remember me? That doesn’t matter. Remind them who you are, and tell them what they meant to you and how they’ve had a positive impact on you becoming who you are today. I have received a few emails over the years, and I cannot begin to tell you how good they made me feel. Teaching is a weird profession: we put ourselves out there every single day and expose ourselves to situations no other human being has to endure, and we all do this because WE LOVE TO TEACH. Say what you want about teachers, but no one does this for the paycheck, no one does this for the summers off (mandatory layoffs, my college professor called them), no one does this for the corporate sponsorships – ha ha – we do it to make a difference in the world. And sometimes, when this job seems bleak, having a letter or two written by a former student that reminds us how important we are is invaluable.

So out of respect for Tom, and out of love and appreciation for Mom, I am asking all of you to write that letter. I know that some of you are my former students, and I am not in any way asking you to write this letter to me – the fact that we are friends on Facebook means that I know that you care – but I know you have had other teachers who have touched your life and help you grow. Please let them know how much you value them. Do it now.

Dragon Dictation

I am recording this using my new Dragon dictation software that I got for my birthday. I very excited to have this program! It’s getting harder for me to type, so now I can sit here at the computer until it stories. This program types the stories for me as I speak.

In fact, I’m going to try to experiment now. I’m going to close my eyes and just talk and see how accurate this program is. I don’t know if it will insert commas or if it will only record end punctuation or if I have to say everything. It will be very interesting to discover. So here we go…

I have so much to do. I’m really overwhelmed. I shouldn’t be sitting here playing with my new Dragon dictation software, but it’s so cool! Let’s see, what do I need to do? I need to revise my English exams for college. I need to finish working on the Tam O’Shanter. I need to revamp my syllabuses for summer courses because we changed textbooks this year. I need to grade two sets of essays before Saturday. I need to do the online training to teach computer courses. I need to do the training based on the meeting we had at school last week. I need to finish putting together my lesson plans for this year.

Oh wow! I dictated the first three paragraphs in word processing, then said COPY, then opened up LiveJournal and – just to be silly – said PASTE, and it showed up! I am very impressed with this program. I think this will help me a lot.

As my muscular dystrophy progresses, it's getting harder and harder for me to type. Almost all the time, I have to go back and fix numerous numerous typos, and it's gotten to the point where it barely was typing it all. But Dragon Dictation is going to change that for me. Seriously, I can record stories and poems right here, and watch them typed out before my very eyes.

Okay, fun as this is, I really do have a lot to do. Such is life…