Category Archives: commentary

An Unexpected Gift 

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This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

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You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

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After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

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Weekend Fun with Heart Attacks

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I’m not sure why I decided to have a heart attack over the holiday, but my body decided it was time and didn’t really give me a chance for input.   I should qualify it a little bit. I didn’t have an actual heart attack according to the final tests, but the preliminary tests were all red flags and shouting.

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So, I woke up in the middle of the night on Wednesday night with a pain in the left side of my chest.  My left arm was hurting and tingling with numbness.

Now, it is not something new.  I have arthritis in my rib cage and I tend to sleep on my left side.    So, although the pain was concerning, it was not reason to make a middle-of-the-night dash to the emergency room.  I eventually got back to sleep on my right side.  I was sluggish and ill the next morning, but I got a lot of house cleaning done and the chest pains were gone.

Thursday night the pains returned, but still not different than the arthritis pains that sent me to the cardiologist before, and not nearly as harsh and painful as the night before.   Again the pain went away in the day.

Friday night I picked up my son the Marine at the airport.  He was home on holiday leave.  We talked about my chest pains over a meal at I-hop.  He pulled rank on me and vowed to take me to the ER.  I talked him down to Primacare because it’s cheaper, still not believing it was real heart pain.

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The next morning Primacare didn’t go so well.  The EKG machine there predicted a major earthquake… or a typhoon, or something… and the Prima-doctor got all serious in the face.  “Do you want me to call an ambulance?  We are required to make the offer in these situations.”

“No, no.  My son is with me and can drive me to the Emergency Room.  I promise I will go.”

And so I did.

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At the ER they are very concerned that you don’t have anything in your pockets.  They quickly dressed me in a hospital gown and then surgically removed $200 (due to the wondrous way my insurance company has of not paying their portion of the bill).  So, lighter by that amount, they immediately hooked me up to their own EKG machine.  I had so many patches attached to the hair on my chest that I was guaranteed to be bald-chested when it came time to rip them all off again.  Then they  repeated the EKG testing done earlier in the day.  I swear, the same squirrel that was visiting Primacare when I was there earlier, sneaked into their EKG machine too and vigorously jumped up and down.  So, there it was.  The proof they needed that I had too much money left in my bank account.  And so they put me inside the hospital.

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Once inside, they rigged me up so one arm could be crushed by a BP sleeve every two hours, or more if they felt like it, and the other arm could be drained of blood so that they could tell if there was any further money in my bank account.

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Three days later, the enzymes in my blood said that what I had was mysterious and not a heart attack.  The stress test I had on Monday nearly killed me, and told them that I didn’t have enough money left in my bank account to keep in the hospital any longer.  I got out still wearing my arm band and allergy warning band as reminders that I really, really didn’t want to go back, but life is like that, and I still don’t know what caused it all, or if I will have to return to deal with it later on.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, healing, health, humor, illness, Paffooney

I Love to Laugh

“Mickey, why can’t you be more serious the way smart people are?”

“Well, now, my dear, I think I take humor very seriously.”

“How can you say that?  You never seem to be serious for more than a few seconds in a row.”

“I can say it in a high, squeaky, falsetto voice so I sound like Mickey Mouse.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I can also burp it… well, maybe not so much since I was in junior high.”

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“I distinctly remember getting in trouble in Mrs. Mennenga’s third grade class in school for pantomiming pulling my beating heart out of my chest and accidentally dropping it on the floor.  She lectured me about being more studious.  But I made Alicia sitting in the row beside me laugh.  It was all worth it.  And the teacher was right.  I don’t remember anything from the lesson on adding fractions we were supposed to be doing.  But I remember that laugh.  It is one precious piece of the golden treasure I put in the treasure chest of memories I keep stored in my heart.”

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“I always listened to the words Groucho Marx was saying, even though he said them awfully fast and sneaky-like.  I listened to the words.  Other characters didn’t seem to listen to him.  He didn’t seem to listen to them.  Yet, how could he respond like he did if he really wasn’t listening?  In his answers were always golden bits of wisdom.  Other people laughed at his jokes when the laugh track told them to.  I laughed when I understood the wisdom.”

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“Laughing is a way of showing understanding.  Laughing is a way of making yourself feel good.  Laughing is good for your brain and your heart and your soul.  So, I want to laugh more.  I need to laugh more.  I love to laugh.”

 

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Driving, Driving, Uber Dallas

crazy old driver

I find myself actually working again and earning money.  This time, I am Uber driving.  Yes, I am driving around the Dallas, Texas area for a freelance cooperative driving service based on a phone app.   I pick people up when called and take them where they want to go.  I can work whenever I feel well enough to do it, admittedly not often enough to keep a real job, and I can choose where as well as when to work.

But it is not all rose-smelling wonderful work.  You don’t get to see or know anything about the people you are carrying in your own personal car before you have to decide if that is a good idea or not.  It is true that you will probably not be mugged or robbed by the passenger.  Uber knows where to find them if they commit a crime, and I can rate a passenger so low that it affects whether they can get their next Uber ride or not.  I probably won’t get raped either.  After all, a grumpy old man in poor health is probably not that attractive to potential rapists. But people talk to Uber drivers.  Well, all but the pretty young woman I drove to her place of work in central Dallas, but she was probably worried about the creepy old potential serial killer that was driving her and she didn’t get to approve beforehand.  And what people say when they talk can be potentially inflammatory, monumentally stupid, and, yes, this is Texas we are talking about, mind-blowingly racist.  I guess because I am a white guy in Texas, they believe I must be amenable to any toxic tirade that may bubble up in their pointy little heads.

But talking for a living is what teachers do.  I learned to do it well.  If you argue with a moron, you get his back up and he digs the trench deeper that he is willing to defend and even die in.  It is far better to listen, make neutral listening acknowledgements along the way, neither agreeing or disagreeing, and then when they allow you to state your side of the case, offer it up as “have you ever considered this?” backed up by coherent logic, and they may not only agree with you, but even commit to trying it your way even though you are suggesting the polar opposite of what they told you they believe until their dying day.  “I understand that you think Mexicans are dragging the economy down by taking services like public education without paying into the system through taxes because they are undocumented workers.  But did you know that most of them have taxes deducted automatically from every paycheck, but can’t claim anything in refunds… ever?  They are not eligible for food stamp assistance or unemployment payments without documentation and valid IDs.   And even green card holders don’t have all the rights of U.S. citizens.  Maybe we should make it easier for them to become citizens so that they could be productive American workers and everything could be legal again.”  They at least listen to me respectfully because I listened to them first.

And so, I have worked for Uber for over a week.  I have made fifty dollars.  And I think it works out to a little over four dollars an hour.  Wow!  Significantly below the minimum wage.  Oh, well, at least I am working and talking again.

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Regrets…

Veterans day is here again.  It means something different now that my son is a Marine.  It was always a solemn and somber occasion in the past.  My great uncle on my father’s side died in World War II, a training accident inside a Navy gun turret.  My great uncle on my mother’s side was part of the second wave on the beach in Normandy.  He was injured by a German grenade and moderately disabled for the rest of his life.  I never got to hear war stories.  He was too damaged to ever talk about anything that happened in the war.  My mother’s cousin was flying a plane in the Viet Nam Conflict.  It went up, and didn’t come down again.  You think of those things, and wish it could be different.  You pray that it will be different for your son who is a soldier.

But when the worst that can happen comes to pass… there are no regrets.  Whatever future we have is rooted in the past.  Pain and suffering are difficult to manage, but when you manage them, it leaves you stronger… better as a person than you were before.  So I don’t take anything for granted.  I was not a warrior in this life.  I was a teacher, a story-teller.  And I made some mistakes along the way.  I have lost some whom I cared about very deeply.  Ruben, Fernando, and J.J. are all gone tragically.  I will always feel I should have done more to help them when they were boys and needed help.  Miraculously with the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq I have lost no former students to war, though many of mine have fought.  I pray that my luck continues to hold.

But there are no regrets.  And “you can listen as well as you hear”, so listen to this.  I love you.

Yes, I am talking to sons and daughters, to former students, to former colleagues, to everyone I have ever known.  And even if I don’t know you, never met you, even if you never get a chance to hear this message… I am talking to you also.  We are all one.  We all live and love and strive together, and even if we disagree to the point of war… we still belong to each other.  Thank you for being you.  You needed to hear that at least as much as I needed to say it.

My son is coming home on leave for Thanksgiving.  I will be giving thanks.

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Why Mickey Writes

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If you are wondering, “How in the Heck can Mickey write nonsense like that essay he wrote yesterday?”, then please be aware that Mickey is pondering that same question.

Seriously, why would a writer publish personal thoughts and allude to personal tragedies?  Especially when they are about things that once upon a time nearly killed him?  (Please note that when Mickey starts a sentence with “Seriously” it is probably about to lead to a joke, the same way as when Trump says, “Believe me” we should  assume he is telling a lie and knows it.)

The answer is simply, writers write stuff.  They have to.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be writers.

It is really not something to do to earn fame and fortune.  Fame and fortune happen to rare individuals like J. K. Rowling and Steven King… and even Stephanie Meyer, to prove that it is totally random and not based on actual writing talent… except for sometimes.

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You write to get your head right about bad things that happen in life.  You find that factor in Mark Twain whose infant son died, as well as most of the rest of his family, before him, forcing him to face survivor’s guilt and the notion that life is random and death does not come for you based on any kind of merit system.  Charles Dickens wrote about the foibles of his father, on whom he based the David Copperfield character Wilkins Micawber, a man who was overly optimistic and constantly landing in debtor’s prison because of it.  He also wrote in his stories about the women he truly loved (who were not, it seems, his wife) one of whom died in his arms while yet a teenager.  Dickens’ amused take on the innate foolishness of mankind gave him a chance to powerfully depict great tragedies both large (as in a Tale of Two Cities) and small (as in Oliver Twist).  I wrote yesterday’s post based on the connection between the nudity I write about in novels and my own traumatic assault when I was only ten.

You write because you have wisdom, an inner personal truth, that you are convinced needs to be crystallized in words and written down on paper.  It isn’t necessarily real truth.  Lots of idiots write things and post them in newspapers, blogs, and even books.  And it is often true that their inner personal truth is complete hogwash.  (But, hey, at least the hogs are cleaner that way.)  Still, your wisdom is your own, and it is true for you even if some idiot like Mickey reads it and thinks it is only fit for cleaning hogs.

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And you truly do have to write.  If I did not write my stupid, worthless novels, all the hundreds of characters in my head would get mad and start kicking the pillars that hold up the structures in my head.  I do have structures in my head.  My mind is organized in boxes that contain specifically sorted ideas and stories and notions.  It is not a festering stew pot where everything is mixed together and either bubbling or boiling with hot places or coagulating in the cold corners.  (That is how I picture Donald Trump’s mind.  It is certainly not an empty desert like many people think, because deserts don’t explode all over Twitter early in the morning like the stew pot metaphor obviously would.)

And so, I have done it again.  I have set down my 500+ words for today and made a complete fool of myself.  And why do I do it?  Because Mickey is a writer, and so, Mickey writes stuff.

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The Muffin Man Goes Uber-ing

I have been retired now for nearly four years.  It has not been an easy thing to adjust to.  I am used to hard work and constant thinking on my feet.  Yet I have been mostly confined to the house and unable to do much beyond write and drive my kids to the many places high school kids need to go.  I don’t really have trouble keeping busy, but I need to do something to reconnect to the outside world beyond the bedroom door.

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I have been teaching myself to cook.  These muffins are strawberry flavored and only require milk added to the mix, no eggs to crack and shell pieces to pick out of the batter.  I have also been learning the hard way how to burn the crap out of pans and muffin trays.  And… learning how to clean burned pans… but obviously not very well.

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I have been getting to know the oven quite well.  We talk about life and muffins and heat and baking times, and she is constantly beeping at me to warn me when things are about to burn.

She has also been giving me writing advice.  She got me talked into not burning my bank account any further by investing in publishing services.  Those goobers are mostly just money-grubbers in a dying industry.  My novel Stardusters and Space Lizards was thoroughly baked on this blog over the last sixty eight weeks, and so I needed to finally take it out of the oven.  This I did through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.  The book was formatted and put together in publishable form in a matter of days.  You can find it here on Amazon… My Book.  Page Publishing still has my novel Magical Miss Morgan in page formatting after over a year and a half of working with them. No way are their services worth the money I paid them.  They work slowly and dangerously incompetently.  I would sue them to get my money back, but it would cost me more for a lawyer than what I paid them.  So far with self-publishing I am only ten dollars in the hole, the amount I spent on copies of my own book.

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But as the stove pointed out heatedly, the kitchen and computer are not actually getting out of the house and meeting the world again after three and three quarters years.  And the chances of income from muffins and writing are slim.  So I also made a plan to be an Uber driver.  I got carefully signed up and prepared.  I was finally able to download the Uber driving app last weekend, and this weekend I finally felt well enough to try driving for money.  So last night I got in the car and connected with a potential passenger, my first ever Uber drive.

Of course, this is Mickey we are talking about here.  Nothing in my little life ever goes smoothly, especially at the start.  If things were perfect, I would definitely be worried that something was seriously wrong with the universe.  So, my first passenger was a guy who needed to be driven to the 7-Eleven to buy beer.  And naturally, I couldn’t find the place to start with.  The Uber computer-voice lady kept wanting me to download something in the middle of giving me directions.  She also wanted me to turn left and drive through a fence.  But when I finally did turn in to the apartment complex and realized that I was in the wrong section of the complex to pick up my passenger, I quickly corrected my error and found him.  Computer-voice lady kept telling me to turn the wrong direction, so I listened to my passenger to make the proper turns and got him there on time.  My car, however, overheated in the parking lot.  Now, that isn’t entirely accurate.  It has a faulty heat-sensor that registers overheating whenever the car is idling and heat is reflected back up from stationary pavement under the car.  I had the thing in to the dealer for the recall fix twice, and the replacement chips are just as defective as the original chips.  And, of course, I have been notified about the class action lawsuit, but because it is not a life-threatening malfunction, it may be some time before that is resolved.  So, I rolled down the windows and turned the car heater up high and reduced the heat the defective detector detected.  The drunk guy got back in the car with his beer and I successfully took him back to his apartment, his girlfriend, and his party.  I got a five star rating for the trip.  But I cut the night short.  I earned $4.oo total for the evening.  It wasn’t perfect, but I was finally out in the world again.  I was earning money again.  And I got to discuss the perils of diabetes with a drunk guy whose brother had juvenile diabetes.  Life is good… some of the time.

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Filed under being alone, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, humor, illness, photo paffoonies