There's an old saying that's used to describe the inequities of life beyond our control...sometimes you bite the pooch, and sometimes the pooch bites you.
Anyone who's been around me the last 4 months can pretty well see that my hind quarters have been a rawhide chew toy, and the health care system and anyone associated with it has been the offending canine!!!
My 8o year old mother has been ailing, and no longer able to take care of herself moved in with me and my family. She took over my daughter's room, and relegated my daughter to spending her summer vacation, home from college, living in our family room down stairs. We all made due, and while the worst of the situation did not occur at home, but on the outside, this is where the gnawing on George began.
Countless visits to the hospital...untold visits and phone calls to surgeons. Multiple trips to pharmacies, only to be told we need to make another trip to the doctor because we have the wrong "script"...an insider technical shorting of the word perscription. Go to Walmart for one script... Shoprite for the other one... Riteaid because it's one dollar cheaper then back to Walmart because their kitty litter is dust free, and Sam, my mother's cat from hell, will only poop dustless! Then on the way home, stop at the condo and get the mail, even though Middletown is three towns away from where I'm heading. Oh, and all the while, trying to still run the business, whose phone system has turned into a hotline to all the doctors, surgeons, health care givers, and pain therapists, that all seem to be on vacation, or celebrating some obscure holiday at the same time! Burn this phrase into my brain...they'll call you back, don't worry!!!! NOT!
In between all this, throw in 3 mountain bike races hosted by us in what has to have been the wettest, and nastiest summer on record. Hours spent in the woods working on trails, trimming vegetation that mutated with the weather, and feeding the hordes of voracious species of biting insects, some of which I believe have not been discovered yet. If there's any budding entymologists out there that would like a DNA sample of biting flies, feel free to contact me for a gratis blood sample...that is if there's enough left to study.
I guess this is a weak attempt to excuse myself for not having written in two months. I just couldn't do it. I was busy, depressed, stressed, exhausted, frustrated, angry, sad, and spinning out of control. Even countless visits in between to the Brewhouse Beverage store, couldn't lubricate the wheels of motion that were accelerating me toward early lunacy. I was under the impression that at my age, my children were supposed to drive me nuts, not my parents!
Any way, heading into the fall, my daughter is back to school, and with any luck at all, by the time some of you read this, my mother will be back home, giving it one more try at independence. After two surgeries within three weeks of each other, she is on the mend, and keeps telling me she's tired of me taking care of her...boy, if she only knew!
Never again can I look at hospital issued socks in the same way...who knew they could substitute for shoes. House dresses at 4 for $28 that I thought were discontinued in the 80's now take up one half of my laundry basket...and they all have Hawaiian flowers on them...go figure. Vegetable laxatives are more plentiful in the cabinet than my beloved cheddar goldfish. The spot once occupied by fine scotches, and wines, has been taken over by countless bottles of pills, most of which I can't pronounce or spell. All this soon to be over, but believe me, never forgotten.
I wish her, me, and my wife all the luck in the world. Of course, I am seeing some humor in all of this, but the truth is, that the heartbreak we have endured over the last four months is almost indescribable. Only some one who has gone through a similar situation, can truly understand just how sad it is to see a parent suffer, and just how broken our healthcare system is in this country.
I will be leaving labor day weekend to do the Shenandoah 100 mountain bike race in Virginia, and cannot tell you how I am looking forward to going. I will suffer I'm sure, but can rest easy in the knowledge that I will quickly recuperate. Upon my return, mom is heading home. After I restock her refrigerator, dust the furniture, pick up the mail, and refill the cat box, I will come back to my house and hopefully resume normalcy...or at least what I construe to be normal. I do know that every time the phone rings, I will sneak up on it in the hope that it's not my mother calling, but some intrusive solicitor trying to sell me the latest, and greatest perscription plan, or the customer service desk at Walmart asking if I have an 80 year old mother insising on buying dustless kitty litter! Who knows...I might just say no!!!
"Yours in momentary relief"...George
No body enjoys a good party like I do. The joy is in the hosting, more than attending. Because I have an 8 o'clock curfew, it's easier to control the revelry allowing me the luxury of so called beauty sleep. Anyone who has come face to face with me in the last couple of years, won't argue the fact that perhaps I am lacking in much needed slumber.
When you take a good party, and combine it with a mountain bike race, odds are everyone will be going home with that fuzzy feel good aura that comes occasionally from an epic sporting event. Bikes, singletrack, friends and beer seem to be the magic formula to a really good time.
A very dear friend of mine, Joe Habermann always used to say that we are "Drinkers with a cycling problem!" Joe always had this warped bag of sayings that quite frankly, were very predictable once you hung with him a few times. I think that's why we got along so well for the time spent together, until he moved away to Maryland...I could never disagree with his analysis. I, and all my riding buddies are just that, but we never lose focus of our goals...to stay fit, respect the woods, and enjoy our lives for the brief time we are alloted.
My race partner "Hawaiian" Mike and myself recently hosted the first annual Single Speed-apalooza, mountain bike race. The notion was concieved in January after an extremely cold Sunday morning ride, and the more pints we hoisted in the parking lot, the better the idea sounded. Stupid ideas have a habit of gaining momemtum in direct proportion to the number of pints consumed!
The concept was rather simple. Because single speed bikes had become so popular, and the classes were consistantly growing at regional races, we decided that it would be wonderful to have a single speed only race to bring these like monded folks together. The fact that this is a whole different genre than "normal" racers, and their penchant for beer consumption being somewhat legendary, had nothing to do with it. I smelled a big old party brewing!
We flooded the forums with our proposition, and the feedback, was somewhat positive. Date solidified, paperwork secured, course chosen, and major doubt that we were doing the right thing...another stupid idea until the next hydration session where we patted ourselves on the back feeling like we had just hatched the next Microsoft!
Mike and I figured maybe a 100 folks would show, especially with the promise of a pint glass, and beer...maybe a few more. Well, were we ever wrong. 204 racers later, and possibly the largest single speed gathering on the East Coast, proved that we weren't the only ones who love a good party.
My immense joy at being the host of this event is almost indescribable. It was awesome if I may be allowed to say so. All those single speeds...all those smiles...all those tattoos...all that beer...and most importantly, all that life and positive energy gathered in one place...I was momentarilly a millionaire! We pulled off a party that people are already planning on attending next year.
I cannot speak for other race promoters, but we never cared about the money or profit. I always felt that as long as we didn't lose money, and everyone left feeling good, that was reward enough. I know there will be people who read that statement and roll their eyes, but if you've ever attended one of our parties, I mean races, you would agree. We always lock the gate, and praise ourselves for a job well done.
Can we top that event? I don't know. The Dark Horse 40 looms in the near future, and if this year is anything like the last 7, possibly. We will try, I promise. It's all about the sport, and the bringing together of friends. Simple minds and simple concepts, but right as rain. Every day life can be tough, and as long as "Hawaiin" Mike and I are still speaking, we will do our best to soften things up a little.
Until the next post ride, parking lot, team meeting, hydration session, idea hatching Sunday, I bid you adieu. My pint glass will forever remain half, or more desireably, overflowing with both beer, and joy! If you see me standing there, feel free to come by and hook me up with my all time favorite beverage..."Free and cold!"
P.S. For those of you who don't already know....I offer this one time definition...
"Hawaiian" Mike: (adjective) Phrase used to describe a rather portly, one time mountain bike racer, adorned in an outlandishly dated "Hawaiian" shirt in celebration of his good fortune in getting to hang out with the Mayor of Stewart...(noun) traditional, party animal, sometimes known as "Good time Charlie."
"Yours in Humble hosting"...George
I recently celebrated a birthday...number 56 I'm told. I think that's wrong. The only proof I have is a piece of paper from Margaret Hague Hospital, in Jersey City New Jersey, dated 1953 that says I am.
I'm still that 9 year old boy floating a cement tub down Wolf Creek in Ridgefield with my buddy Roger, capsizing, almost drowning us both, then having to face my father's wrath for being stupid. It wasn't stupid, only fun!
I'm still the centerfielder playing in the "Babe Ruth" league, striking out in a playoff game, on a called third strike, and almost causing a riot when the umpire throws me out for using the "F" word. To this day I swear I didn't say it, but to the guy my father punched for calling me a liar, I guess I did.
I'm still that fearsome linebacker for Ridgefield Memorial High School, getting thrown off the team for sneaking on the bus, heading for a scrimmage, rather than facing detention and missing the game. End result was me quitting High School, getting sent to New York Military Academy in Cornwall, New York, and promptly getting the crap kicked out of me for sneaking out of my room during study period!
I'm still the premed student attending Springfield College amongst all the phys-ed majors, loosing every dollar I had playing hearts, which I really didn't know how to play. End result was me receiving a letter from the Dean's office that I better straighten out, or I would be kicked out of school...therefore another English Major was cultivated, and a 3.8 GPA recorded.
I'm still that 22 year old graduate of Sea Girt State Police Academy, having just been hired by Wayne Township New Jersey Police Dept., thinking I would save the world, and lasting only a year.
I'm still that 27 year old free spirit sitting at the bar at Sterling Forest during a "Budman" party, and meeting my wife of 28 years. Still foggy about how that happened.
I'm still that 31 year old becoming a parent with the premature birth of my son, and spending 3 months driving to the neo-natal unit at Westchester Medical Center to be able to hold my child.
I'm still that 36 year old new bike shop owner, burying my father, and losing that childish innocense that comes with the all too soon loss of a parent. This at the same time my daughter was being born 5 weeks early.
From that time on, life became a blur. Life's been good, albeit extremely interesting in an enjoyable, and educational sort of way. I can't say I have any regrets, as I have been busy enough not to have time to create any. I need to stay focused as I am caring for a very ill mother, who needs me to be there.
That's why I can't be 56...I have too much more to do in this life, and too many peolpe who need me.
As I walk into my mother's condo, and if I close my eyes for just a second, I'm that rapscallion from Ridgefield walking into 620 Elm Avenue, my mother wiping her hands on her apron, and saying, "You just wait till your father gets home"... and you know what....I wish I could!
For the past 20 years, since I entered the world of bike retail, March has held a special significance for me. After suffering through the worst the winter could throw at me, signs of spring would appear, making the dreariness of the cold months no more than a distant memory. Folks with cabin fever and renewed interest in fitness, begin to stream through the door once again. The happy sound of the cash register opening and closing dispell the theory that we are a non-profit organization, while on the other hand, the accumulated pile of bills begin screaming to be satisfied.
Most importantly, my favorite Pisces, my mother, celebrates her birthday. This year she turned 80, and rather than drag her and her 90 year old boyfriend out to a restaurant, I invited them to my house for a simple dinner of BBQed chicken and mashed potatoes. You have to remember when cooking for seniors, to take into account their dental capabilities when choosing food groups. Hopefully, they will remember to bring along their plates....and I don't mean the kind you eat off!
In addition, I invited my 85 year old uncle, my father's brother, and his wife, my 80 year old aunt. Basically, they are all the family I have left except for an 87 year old aunt that lives in Florida.
Needless to say, in the midst of all this life and wisdom, I wanted to feel like a kid again if only I could remember how.
Everyone gathered in the living room for cocktails, both alcoholic, and shrimp, and while soaking up the generous warmth of a blazing woodstove rekindled memories, some good and some not. Failing bodily functions were discussed, and described in graphic detail. Complaints were registered that the meetings of the "Happy Seniors" were not so happy afterall especially since membership was rapidly declining and not voluntarily! And lastly, and most importantly, they all agreed that every problem in this country today could be traced to the administration of Jimmy Carter. This coming out of left field...I mean if he was guilty of anything, it was having an idiot brother that managed to take America's favorite beverage, beer, to new lows with "Billy" beer!
I was happy to excuse myself to head out to a 12 degree garage where I was running the grill, and had ample access to beer in my well stocked "auxillery" refrigerator. Standing there grilling, and pulling on my third pint, I couldn't help but reflect on my family inside and just how important they were to me.
The sun was setting, I was cold outside, warm inside, and suddenly I realized at the tender age of 56, I had been robbed! Problem being there is no defense against this sort of pilferage, and there's not a legal system on eath that could, or would, convict the culprit. I had been robbed of time, and as subtly and drawn out as the infraction was, in an instant, with 337 years of life in my living room, realized that I was thankfully guilty that I had allowed it to happen.
It became apparent that life is indeed a gift, and a privilege. Often times it becomes difficult to appreciate it what with our lives being so hectic. You look over your shoulder as a youth, turn your head the other way, and the years have had their way with you.
I suppose that's as it should be. I suppose that's the beauty of photographs, and keepsakes...a gentle reminder that we are fulfilling a destiny, and one which is only afforded us one time...one very precious, and valuable time.
With the chicken, and the pint, both finished I closed out the sunset, and the garage door, and headed back into the party. By this time, 5 PM, it was made clear to me that dinner needed to be served immediately, and within seconds of finishing, desert, as bed time was rapidly approaching. All at the table insisted they had to get home before it got dark, like they were some sort of "reverse, Bizarro" vampires or something!
Always the obidient son, I complied with their wishes, and the rest of the evening went off wonderfully smooth.
I walked my mother and her boyfriend out to the car, holding both their arms, grateful that I still had the strength to support them. I couldn't help thinking that perhaps someday, with any luck at all, my children would be throwing me and my wife parties like this. Would we behave like them? Don't know, and don't care. It just waits to be seen. Would I want the opportunity at their age to behave like them? You better believe it.
I used to ask my father, at what age do you think someone is ready to go? His answer was, "You're never ready to go, and most who do go kicking and screaming!"
That will be me for sure, but one thing I can tell you, when I do go, it won't be wearing a plaid shirt and courderoy pants with a tweed sport coat, and orthopedic shoes. I'll be wearing bib shorts with our shop jersey, and SPD compatible shoes, riding into eternity on a 29er, going to join those that gave me my memories in this brief, and very wonderful life!
"Yours in renewal" George