Sue Ellen

The day was going to come. I’ve known it now for months, reading between the lines, shocked at how selfish I can be.

A family grieves, including small children and people who were once small children, who once came under the spell of one particular teacher. I read their comments on her Facebook page. I resist the urge to add something, to make it about me, although of course I’d feel compelled. It turned out to be about me.

I knew her for such a short time, and up until a few years ago hers was just another dusty name, alive and well in my memory but for reasons I didn’t quite understand.

I’ve tried to explain this on several occasions, and I don’t seem able to, somehow. But here you go: I’m not very interested in writing to make myself feel better. To rant, to vent, to rage against injustice, fold it up into a paper airplane and sail it off into the world, to do nothing constructive but spew; I’ve done it, but it’s not satisfying and I rarely have the urge.

Some people can pull this off, this personal catharsis that comes with assembling stray thoughts into little clauses. It’s just never worked for me. If I want to change my mood, I’ll take a walk or pull weeds.

But sometimes I learn things, if after the fact. Sometimes I’ll re-visit something I wrote, sometimes years ago, and see what was on my mind, what focus had been adjusted by the act of typing characters on a keyboard and waiting to see what came out.

So I wrote about her a few years ago, this distant memory of a music teacher, just a cute story I thought that pushed the narrative along. I was an adolescent, she was kind and inspiring, and how funny that my life would look oddly as though my trajectory was changed, if ever so slightly, by a few months of singing and learning, and watching.

And what I learned, later on, looking back at that piece, was that while I could spin a story about influence and inspiration, and how funny it was that I’d end up fascinated by musicians, marrying one and fathering another, there was an actual teachable moment there. Or moments. A long time ago.

I sent her the column, finding her alive and well online, and we had some communication after all of these years. And I tried to tell her, without getting too sentimental or lofty, that somehow she gave me confidence. It was a good time to receive it, at 13 years old. It made the next few years a lot more fun.

I figured out what I’d learned, that’s all, and why it wasn’t what I’d always believed.

And that was it. The occasional notes from time to time, and I kept an eye on her life as much as anyone else I once knew and now can observe through social media, lurking or engaging, my choice.

The last comment she left me was on Facebook, in fact. It was strange, with missing words and a few misspelled ones, which I tried to pass off as maybe a quickly dictated note, or maybe done with one hand in a spontaneous moment. That’s all I thought. I already knew she was dying.

That much she’d told me, if indirectly. I knew about the brain cancer and the treatment, and her decisions about the future. But it wasn’t as though we were close. Just a teacher, and a former student, and some people in common in a few crazy but actually understandable connections.

And yet here I am, trying to deconstruct a slight, tangential relationship to find something else. To find out why this makes me so sad.

I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s because, after connecting at a distance after all these years, I assumed that one day we’d end up in roughly the same geographic location, close enough to make a trip to say hi.

Maybe it’s because she was 67, in a year when we’ve lost some famous people who never reached 70. It was the same age as my father when he died, although under different circumstances, and that was 13 years ago. I obviously am closer to 67 now than I was then.

Or maybe it’s just what it is, and was. She was young and pretty, enthusiastic about music and about sharing it with young minds and voices. She lit up the classroom, and taught with humor and joy.

And sometimes she’d sing, just a little, a beautiful voice, a lyric soprano who knew more about her own instrument than most of us would ever learn about our own.

I may have married my music teacher, in other words, the way some people are said to marry their fathers or mothers. I have no sense of this, although maybe it explains the familiarity I felt. I have very little insight into what I was like at 13, and no wisdom about what makes love happen.

It just made me a little desolate yesterday, knowing that we were losing a little light in this dark world, wishing it didn’t have to be that way. Wishing I had just one more chance to say thank you, for lessons learned. About singing, about music, about me.


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A Short Course

I just gulped down four pills, the last of the azithromycin and my next-to-last methylprednisolone. My coughing jags are minimal now, although I can’t claim relief from any of those medications. It’s likely; I just don’t get an immediate reaction, even from the steroids, which in the past have elevated my energy a bit (but that was prednisone, slightly different).

The cough medicine with codeine reminded me of when my dad’s doctor put him on bupropion or something similar, the antidepressant supposed to aid in smoking cessation; he said it just made him feel a little happier about smoking. I came back from my adventures in Sunday urgent care just in time to take a couple of teaspoons and park in front of the TV to watch Sunday Night Football. I didn’t notice much relief from coughing but at least I felt a little better about it. I took another dose before bed and had weird dreams.

So that’s gone, too. Whatever the actual mechanism of this illness was – and as uncomfortable as I was, we’re really just talking about a cold with maybe a bit of an attitude – it seems to have tapered off to pretty much nothing. As I assume it would have anyway, if lingering a little longer. Anyway, good riddance.

And now I realize that the past five weeks have taken me somewhere else, through the end of this election, to Austin for 10 days of Grandpa Land, and then the beginnings of my transition back to normal life here when this sickness hit.


Today marks the 48th anniversary of something that I’m pretty sure most people on the planet have no inkling of, which amuses me to no end because hey, trivia. I’m old and now I remember silly stuff that has no bearing on anything.

But on November 16, 1968, when I was 10, NBC interrupted the end of a football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets to show the movie, Heidi. This was a big deal; it would be later voted the most memorable regular season game in football history.

A lot of this had to do with the Raiders scoring twice in the last minute to win the game. There was also the ascendency of the old AFL, 1968 being the year that the above-mentioned Jets beat the Colts in the Super Bowl, the league’s first world championship.

Do we care? Nope. Still, it changed a few things about the way sports events are broadcast and how networks consider their viewers. And it happened on this date.

And since diehard football fans, even young ones, might have some sense of the ’68 Jets and Joe Namath, I’m pretty sure few of us remember Heidi, or why we should. Alps, old man, little girl, some sheep…that’s all I got. Give me a big finish any day.

Or today. I could use one of those, just to feel a bit normal again.


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Lungs All The Way Down

img_4287I went to an urgent care clinic on Sunday, mostly to give my wife a little peace of mind. It was a bad cough and had lasted 10 days, and a call to my insurance’s nurse hotline resulted in a recommendation to be seen, so it wasn’t ridiculous.

Still, it felt as though I was seeing a doctor for a cold, and after years of wandering through dusty shelves of medical records I tend to roll my eyes at this sort of thing. It’s the cycle of abuse, in a sense, that perpetuates a lot of our healthcare costs and problems, at least from my vantage point as a consumer with a tiny bit more information than most.

Go to a doctor for what’s probably a cold, and a few tests will probably be run just to be safe, as long as you’re there. And if you’re the kind who insists on some kind of treatment, then antibiotics, which are probably useless, might be prescribed, adding one more opportunity to create resistant bugs.

Or, to put it in more personal terms, it’s certainly possible that my short course of steroids and antibiotics, along with an inhaler, will make me feel better sooner than without them (I also got cough medicine, which is useless for anything other than inducing sleep, which is not an issue), but the meds alone cost me $85 out of pocket, and I’m expecting several hundred dollars more in billing before all is said and done.

This is what makes me crazy. Not that I have solutions, other than single-payer universal coverage in which it’s hard to see a physician for minor issues. It wouldn’t be perfect but I suspect it’d be better. And I suspect the chances of anything resembling that being enacted into law are roughly zero, so this discussion is as useless as that cough medicine.

On the positive side, and it was generally a positive experience, the staff at this particular clinic branch (it was about 15 minutes away but had the shortest wait time according to their website, 20 minutes compared to 2 hours for the one nearest me) being very friendly and helpful, there was nothing abnormal on my chest x-ray other than a few signs of bronchitis (I have no idea how bronchitis shows up on a chest x-ray, or if it really does; it told the doc something, anyway, and nothing bad).

And there was certainly nothing to raise alarms or suggest that I had ever been a chronic smoker. I’m not sure I actually was a chronic smoker as much as a recalcitrant one, somebody who kept returning but never got into serious numbers (never came close to a pack in a single day after the first few years, and spent years completely smoke free). Not that I feel safe; if COPD or emphysema or lung cancer heads my way, I’ll know where it came from. Can’t blame the universe for that.

Another funny thing: The x-ray showed really long lungs, stretching down to the 12th rib, which is apparently unusual; the doctor said he’d never seen it before. They were perfectly normal, and could represent either (a) me taking a very deep breath during the x-ray, or (b) just increased lung capacity, either by luck of the draw or the years spent climbing hills and walking many miles.

My guess is the latter, just because I’ve had some experience with this. On my last physical, my doctor told me to take a very deep breath and after about 20 seconds said, alright already, sheesh, stop with the inhalation.

Once again, then, I’m grateful to still be alive, to not have pneumonia or something worse, and to still be in reasonable condition for a guy who’s uncomfortably close to 60 (just a little uncomfortable).

And then there was my weight, which was a nice improvement over last March when it was 155 with an arrow pointing down. I seem to have solved that issue, and even though I had shoes and a light jacket on, and my scale first thing in the morning had me four pounds lighter, it’s a good place to be.



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Coming Home

I usually get a flu shot in September or early October, and I’m always pretty pleased with myself. My bouts with influenza have, as far as I recall, always come in the winter, often around Christmas or early January. My immune system has a calendar, maybe.

I’m a little late this year with the flu shot. Soon, I think. I got home on Tuesday night, and this week has been sort of a blur.

And oh yeah. I definitely have the flu.

I really can’t complain, although I’m not beating myself up. A flu shot is an educated guess about prophylaxis, anticipating certain strains but not covering everything, and to be fair, I haven’t been officially diagnosed with influenza. But Julie and John (who did get flu shots) had bad upper respiratory infections, at least, while I was gone, and they sounded miserable.

They were on the mend when I got home, although both still have congestion and coughing, the tail end of whatever. I had two days of busyness, paying bills and going to choir practice and dropping my wife off at the bus and baking bread for a service at school she was presiding over, just busy, and I kept my eye on the lawn. October was the wettest on record up here, and it needed, I thought, one final mow before taking the winter off. Friday looked to be dry.

And Friday I had the flu. Having not been here when the others were sick, I can’t compare but I wasn’t surprised. Coughing, sneezing, congestion, a little achy: I had a cold. I forced myself outside to mow and called it a weekend then, tried to eat a little and then went to bed.

A feverish Friday night led to a feverish Saturday, which is why I’m calling it the flu. Along with the nausea and vomiting, always fun.

I have no complaints, really. Maybe the flu shot would have eased this a bit, maybe not, but I had glorious weather for my entire visit, sunny and low to mid-80s every day. Texans were probably ready for a change in weather but for me, it was a chance to renew my summer card, just a little. If somehow the universe needed to extract some price for my fun, it was worth it.

And sometimes you just get the flu.


I followed the campaign noise from Texas, although it seemed pretty apparent in August that this was shaping up to be the most stable election for many cycles. Kind of dull, even, if we just look at numbers and ignore the ugliness. I sent in a electoral college guess to a site I like to visit, just for fun; for the record, it was Clinton 312, Trump 226.

This probably won’t be the case, although I doubt it’ll be closer. Turn-out is the key, and usually is.

But something struck me in my fever dreams, something I remember first occurring to me in 1976, when I was 18 and voting for the first time, and now it’s a little more front and center because of the conflicting ideologies and rhetoric. A lot of people out there seem to fear an existential threat to our system of government, mostly coming from the anti-Trump people (on both sides) but a lot from the anti-Hillary side, too.

I see the threat, but, again, I don’t believe the election will go that way (the Trump way; I don’t see an existential threat from Hillary Clinton, obviously).

But what I noticed was the ease in which pretty savvy political watchers, including some journalists I respect tremendously, extrapolate from polling data and rally sizes and other numbers a sense of where the American people are at, and this is very wrong. I knew it at 18 and I know it today.

There are roughly 325 million people living in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of them are eligible to vote. As we know from our past elections, slightly more than half of those eligible will actually cast a vote.

To make it quick and easy, this means that in any given general election, about 65% of Americans don’t vote. This has been the case for the last 60-70 years (as far back as I was interested in looking), more or less. If we call this percentage of the population (PoP), then a solid win for a candidate would be getting over 20% as a PoP. Usually it’s in the teens, and unless turn-out is drastically increased this year, it’ll be the same.

So don’t listen to anyone who says they’re surprised, for example, that 40% of the American public favors Donald Trump. Or that 45% favors Clinton. Nope. The only thing we can say with some confidence is that most Americans don’t care enough to cast a vote.


Anyway. That’s what floats around my brain when I’m under attack from some virus that I will call the flu. My lawn has been mown, ibuprofen has been consumed, I’m feeling a little better this morning (although stayed home from church, since I still feel as though I’m a walking Petri dish, and not walking all that much), and my ballot sits here, ready to be filled out. We’re totally vote-by-mail in Washington and have been for years, and there are ballot boxes for me to drop it in.

My vote isn’t going to matter in the presidential race, but there are some interesting initiatives and other candidates down ballot. It’s the grownup thing to do, exercising my franchise, at least as far as I’m concerned, and when I sign and seal that ballot it’ll be done for this round. And I can get back to worrying about the Seahawks offensive line, which has its own existential threat to deal with. Game on, I guess.



Loved this, Mom with her Scotch in hand while trick-or-treating (she wasn’t alone).
He was an angler fish, in case you’re wondering.

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