241 years of Tradition Gets Tossed Overboard.

For those of you who may not know this, I am a Navy veteran. I did not serve in combat. Unlike, many of my Navy peers I did not see the world, Barring six months in training, the farthest I got from home in my two year stint was Camp LeJeune, NC. Nevertheless, I am proud to have served my country and my Navy service gave me a jump start into manhood that likely would have taken the spoiled 18 year that I was much longer to achieve. Just 6 months into my Navy career, I was working as a Hospital Corpsman in a Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at the Navy Hospital in Charleston, SC. alongside some of the finest corpsmen, nurses and doctors.

I realize that time brings on some harsh transitions. The Navy base in Charleston, SC closed in 1996. The hospital where I served closed in 2010. In March 2016, the hospital building was facing foreclosure. Any opportunity I would wish to have to roam the 9th floor of that hospital and envision the lives that were saved by all the personnel, before and after me, are long gone. Again, some of these things just happen with the passage of time.

Still, there are SOME changes that I just find very hard to digest. Case in point, the consensus of Ray Mabus (Secretary of the Navy) and Admiral John Richardson (Chief of Naval Operations) to dispense with all 91 of its enlisted ratings titles. The full story can be found by clicking here. The enlisted ratings system had been a Navy tradition for 241 (as old as our nation itself).  To explain the ratings system for those who are not familiar, in addition to an enlisted rank, enlisted personnel were also identified by their rating (occupational code). A list of the enlisted ratings can be found here. For example, at  the time of my discharge (1986), I was an E-3. My rating was HM (Hospital Corpsman). Therefore, my rank/ranking was shown as hospitalman. Again, this indicated, that I was an E-3 Hospital Corpsman. A Navy Photographer had a rating of PH. If said photographer was a 1st Class Petty Officer (E-6) then Joe Sailor would be identified as PH1 sailor (Photographer 1st Class).

I realize  that may sound very convoluted to someone outside of the Navy but it was a great way to see how each person fit into the organizational that is the Navy. It was a great icebreaker. As a corpsman working in a hospital, we got patients of all ranks and ratings. FT2 Smith (not his real name) would get admitted to our unit. I could look at his rating and see he was a Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Petty Officer. Once I got his patient history, I could ask him questions about his job. This not only gave me a glimpse into FT2 Smith’s world, it had great potential of putting the patient at ease from a (most likely) heart related incident that cause his admission.

Those involved in the decision say that this change will help to ease  the transition into civilian life. HUH? HOW, PRAY TELL, DOES THIS HELP SUCH A TRANSITION? Is Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Smith somehow more impeded from getting that civil service job with the county fire department than if he were simply identified as @nd Class Petty Office Smith. I truly DO NO GET IT Secretary Mabus. After all, you served in the Navy for as long (or as little) as I did and reached the distinguished rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. I am speculating that you served in the Navy long enough to pay the government back for your college education. I have no problem with that at all in and of itself. How such tenure makes you an appropriate choice for Secretary of the Navy is strange to me but, hey, that’s politics for you.

I can only suspect that your doctorate from Harvard Law School left very little room for your to remember such trivial information as what your distinguished enlisted Navy personnel actually DO to serve their country. Let me put it to you simply Secretary Mabus, I was not just an E-3. I was a HOSPITAL CORPSMAN. By rank, I was a HOSPITALMAN and I WAS VERY PROUD OF MY JOB. It made me part of who I was in the world’s finest Navy. Perhaps, you should step down Mr. Secretary (after you repeal this decision).Perhaps, you can spend your years working at an American Legion Hall as a BINGO announcer. This way, you can continue to serve our military and only have to worry about saying things like: “B-8, I-17, O-21”. At the most, you have to deal with four syllables. Be sure to properly acknowledge the winner: “Congratulations, BM1 Jones. Thank you for your service.”



Remembering Momma: Simply A Shift Of Tense.

10 years ago today, my Dad called me to tell me that he was purchasing an airline ticket for my wife and me for the worst reason. Our bags were already packed. Less than an hour later, my Dad called me again. It had happened. My mother, Norma Jean McAfee, had passed away at 65. It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years. Some years are harder than others. These past couple of days have been a punch in the gut.

Momma, I miss you terribly. Having said that, I often look in the mirror, at my wife, at my kids, and at my grandson and YOU ARE THERE. When I had my TIA, as I lied inside an MRI machine, you were there. When Taelor took his first steps and said his first words, you were there. When Shayna got married and I walked her down the aisle, you were there (likely amused with my kilt). When Tom got married and I was introduced as Father of the Groom, you were there (likely shaking your head and giggle about my clown makeup). When my wife and I walked across the commencement stage together, you were there (I even said “Hi, Mom!” on the stage). I would not have obtained that degree without your inspiration and influence.

As easy as it is to recognize all the moments you WERE there in the last 10 years, I must remember that in many moments where you ARE STILL THERE. Every time Brianna sees a butterfly, you are there. She even bought a solar powered one that flaps its wings on the dashboard of my car. As Caleb becomes more and more independent, you are there. Every time I write one of these essays, you are SO THERE (to the point where I can almost feel your presence sometimes). I hate that I cannot share my writing with you face to face but you are still very much…THERE.

Most importantly, I need to remember that, in so many ways, you will STILL BE THERE. As Renee’s education and mine lead to new endeavors, you will be there with each of us finding out where our respective roads will lead. You will be there as each of the kids move on with their adult lives (watching in wonder alongside me). You will be there as your great-grandson, Taelor-James, continues to grow into the young mighty warrior that he has been since birth. Every time, I walk the boardwalk along the Genesee River, the harbor off of Lake Ontario, or the trails along the Erie Canal, you will be there. With every day that I wake up and pledge to do something about my weight, you will be there (as you understand that struggle better than anyone I know).

Yes, Momma. I miss you terribly. But I know, as you would poignantly point out to me, this is all just a matter of shift the tense: you were there, you are there, and you will be there. You have never truly left me. I know you will be there again…soon. I may not realize it until after the fact or even expect it (in spite of all the aforementioned examples). All the same, I can’t thank you enough for teaching when to shift the tense. I look forward to seeing the next shift.

[Note: Before I had a chance to post this, you were there. Once again, you came in the form of a butterfly in our backyard while Brianna played with Taelor. Thanks for visiting, Momma.]

Transient? I Don’t Think So! Part V: Moving On

The next day in the hospital would test me a great deal. I’m not just being figurative here. There were more blood tests. An occupational therapist got me up and walking. She was nice enough. She walked me around the ward. She even had me walk up and down one flight of stairs. Toward the end of my walk, my legs started to feel a little rubbery. That was not a feeling I was expecting. Fortunately, it was not a far walk back to my room. By the time I got back to bed, I had an awful headache.

My wife, Renee, showed up and was waiting for me when I got back from my walk. The nurse got me something for my headache. Renee, however, brought something from the house that I REALLY needed: my clown nose. I had become obsessed with clowning recently. I had even dressed as a clown for my son’s Halloween wedding.  I was REALLY happy to see that nose.

Later that day, a technician came in to perform an echocardiogram. In short, they use sound waves to take pictures of the chambers of my heart. They were ruling out cardiac damage that could have contributed to the symptoms I had the morning before. I turned my head to my right so the technician could get a better position for the test. When she wasn’t looking, I out on my clown nose. I turned my head as she was wrapping up the test. When the technician saw my nose, she started giggling.Man, I really needed that nose.

The next day, a doctor came in to review all my findings and prepare me for discharge. All of the tests came up negative for any damage to my heart or my brain. Once again, I put my clown nose on while the doctor was talking to me. It really helped to break the tension. In short, the doctor told me that there was no “smoking gun” to explain why I experienced the symptoms I had that morning. He also told me that just because there was no smoking gun did not mean that a bullet didn’t come flying through my house that morning. That actually made me feel better. It assured me that what happened that morning was real and no one (including myself) was over-reacting to what happened. Actually, my wife and daughter probably prevented a much worse situation by reacting so quickly.

I left the hospital on that day.The doctor gave me orders to wait a week before returning to work. Physical issues aside, I was relieved to have that time to try and process what happened to me. As it turns out, there were other things that required adjustment. My diagnosis – I had a TIA. That stands for transient ischemic attack. In short, I had a brief, mild intermittent stroke. Those were two words right there that would pop into my head every single day: TIA and stroke. When I had my first follow up at the stroke clinic (there’s that word again), the doctor threw another one at me. He said I had a “left hemispheric event”. George Carlin was right. The more syllables you use, the less serious it seems.

The week I spent at home was also an adjustment in other ways. On the third day, I thought I would try to run a personal errand at a  nearby store. Somewhere around aisle six, my legs got that rubbery feeling again. I decided not to push my luck and go home. When I got home, my wife and daughter both told me I was not happy for “sneaking out” by myself. They were right. I had snuck out and I was taking a foolish risk.

Over time, I would return to work. I would have follow up visits. I basically assimilated into my normal routine prior to my “left hemispheric event” (that just sounds funny when I say that). My follow up visits show that I am clean as a whistle (minus the need to drop some pounds). I still get the headaches. The doctor said those are quite normal given the experience. I have an implant in my chest that tracks my heart rhythm. I just received a report form my cardiologist that my heart rhythm is normal. I still hear the words TIA and stroke every single day. I have to be OK with that.

Simply put, I have to learn from my history, work to improve my health (lose the weight), and otherwise…just move on. I couldn’t control when it happened before. I can (and will) work to improve my health and reduce my chances of letting it happen again. Still, I can’t obsess over it too much. I will have some days where moving on will be easier than others. Still, moving slow is still moving forward.

Opportunity for Seniors (both kinds)

I was driving home tonight with my wife and daughter. As we were getting near the house, my daughter noticed a sign that there was a new building in development. What kind of building, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. The new building will be a senior care facility. We all agree that such a facility will be a great asset to the community for those that need such a service in our neck of the woods. Folks in our area can have a facility for their loved ones and not have to travel too far to visit.

Of course, because I was a bit tired (and because I was awake and breathing) my mind began to wander in a bit of a warped way. I realized what was going to be near the new senior care facility – a high school. I couldn’t help but to come to one conclusion. Placing a senior care facility so close to a high school is BRILLIANT! Those planners REALLY did their homework (see what I did there?).

What makes this so brilliant, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. Every afternoon, residents in the new facility can be set up in lawn chairs near the road. At the high school, senior students can take part in a new work program. For a part time wage, these senior students can be responsible for walking across the property line of the senior care facility on the way home. The residents of the facility can now have some quality recreation telling these seniors to: “GET OUTTA MY YARD!”  The residents can even rotate special duties. One week, a resident can hold a garden rake and shake it at the kids in anger. The next week that same resident can spray the oncoming senior students with a water hose. The week after that, the resident came be given a mobile phone to “call the law on you good-for-nothing hooligans”. Of course that mobile phone will route all calls to a central desk that has not true connection to the local police, remember this is recreation. If you think about it, it’s a form of LARPing (Live Action Role Play).

Let’s remember now that this relationship is not one sided. These kids are getting a wage and school credit. You can even offer an opportunity for extra credit work (to raise a failing grade). One kid can carry an empty soda bottle and drop it on the property as he walks by. Another kid can wear saggy pants with his underwear showing while his portable radio plays the latest song from Katy Sue Gaggy-Goo-Goo at OBSCENE volumes.

At the end of it all, the residents have some quality recreation. The senior students earn an honest wage. Imagine the new bonding opportunities when the senior students visit their grandparents and tell them about their after school programs. It’s community support on so many levels. BRILLIANT, I TELL YA! JUST BRILLIANT!

Maybe It’s Just Me But…It Really Isn’t.

Parental Advisory: This writing deals with a subject matter that is potentially very sensitive to young children. Parents with children under 12 may wish to use discretion. If you are a parent with children over 12 years old and haven’t discussed this subject  – BLESS YOUR HEARTS!

Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen. Today I intend to touch upon a VERY controversial subject. I feel almost disheartened that I feel the need to air my views on this subject. I must qualify that I have TRIED my best over the years to make my writing as family friendly as possible. My sister has even told me that I tend to censor myself when I write. Part of the reason why I do this is that I want my writing to be safe for readers of all ages. If a 12 year old reads my writing and doesn’t understand something, I want it to be because their vocabulary is immature and not because my writing is too “adult”.

Today’s subject will fly in the face of that family friendly policy a bit. I am going to talk about Santa Claus. All around the world, kids will wait for a man in a red suit and white beard to circumnavigate the globe and bring presents to those good little boys and girls. Stories of Santa Claus are steeped into Christmas tradition. It’s a part of Christmas tradition that has been around far longer than I have (and will remain long after I am gone). Parents go to great length to perpetuate the story of Santa Claus. Parents teach children that Santa Claus is a reality until they feel their children has reached the age where they must have “the talk” with their kids.

I took a bit of a different route with my children. I didn’t hide Santa from my kids. I did, however, teach my kids from day one that Santa Claus is a fictional character. Did I let my kids watch TV specials about a red nosed reindeer or snowman powered by normal household items? Sure! I also let them watch TV specials where kids decorated a shoddy Christmas tree and sang carols about the birth of Jesus. The thing is, there are just some premises that I have issues with regarding Santa Claus. Once again, I provide a bulleted list:

  • 11 months a year we teach children some VERY important provisos about “stranger danger”. Christmas season comes around and parents worldwide will set such policies aside. These same parents will encourage their children to sit in the lap of a stranger. If that were not enough, the same parents will encourage this same child to accept candy from this stranger. These truly loving parents would lose their minds if a man who is only employed during one month a year would invite their kids to sit in his lap and accept candy.
  • The concept of Santa Claus encourages the belief that children will receive gifts based on good behavior over the previous 11 months. There are two problems with this.
    • Even the most well-behaved child with the most faithful and just parents is going to blow a streak of good behavior. That is simply human nature. Conversely, the most incorrigible child will put on the airs of a noble Boy Scout come December.
    • In either of the above cases, the problem is teaching a child that a GIFT must be EARNED. This flies in the face of the very definition of a gift. One never has to earn a gift. As a matter of fact, it CANNOT be earned. If it is earned, it is not a gift. The only requirement to receive a gift is simply to take it. It’s so simple and yet, somehow, so complex.
  • I saw a post earlier this week asking parents to be sensitive to the plight of other parents. The simple scenario is that Kid A gets a brand new video game system. His best friend, Kid B gets a paddleball and a big set of crayons. This is simply because Kid B’s parents cannot afford more. Ergo, there is concerned that Kid B will think that Santa found him less deserving than Kid A. Both parents should teach their kids that possessions are not always equal. Some kids will have to walk five blocks to catch a city bus to school while their friends (or even their enemies) will be driven by their parents to school in an Escalade. That’s life. Mind you, if both kids live closely enough, the Escalade driver should drive both kids to school. I’m sure the parent who is putting their kid on a city bus will be grateful (and even offer to share gas costs if their budget allows). Imagine the example both parents could pass down to their kids in such a scenario.
  • Parents will talk to their friends, peers, and colleagues about diversity. They will pontificate they it is important to accept those who celebrate a holiday tradition other than Christmas. That is UNTIL they find out you are teaching your kids that Santa Claus is fictional. These same “diverse” individuals will suddenly vilify you and tell you that your are ruining Christmas for children everywhere. I have literally seen relationships threatened over the subject of Santa Claus. If you wish for your child to believe Santa Claus is real, fine and dandy. Conversely, do not rant at someone because they teach their that Santa is fictional. Such actions are not in the interest of diversity. It only serves hypocrisy.

OK folks! I have gotten it off my chest. With the subject of Santa aside, I offer the following suggestions. If you have parents (or adult children) who live nearby, tell them that you love them. You never know when you will no longer have them around to do so. Do the same for other friends or loved ones that live over long distances. If you re able to access this blog, you are likely able to reach out to a friend while they are still around to receive the message. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe holiday season. Thank you all for following my readings up to this point. Celebrate the season as you wish. I wish to celebrate it as the One who was born to become a nobody so that I could be a somebody. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The Couch Set Vortex

My family is not one that sits in the lap of luxury. Don’t get me wrong. I have a good job. My wife and I are usually able to make ends meet. Mind you, it does sometimes feel like the ends are being held together by nothing more than static electricity. Still, we do okay. I have a job that I enjoy. We have a couple of older cars that get us from point A to point B.  We have a roof over our heads. We have food on the table. Life could be worse.

Still, there comes a time where changes must be made. We had been having some issues with our couch set. It had been handed down to us from some family friends. They had had it for a few years and were looking to replace after they moved. It was a decent enough set but it was truly beginning to show its age. With 5 adults and a grandchild in the house, sitting in the living room was a challenge whenever we had company over. In addition, the couch and loveseat had begun to sink in the middle of the seats. If you wanted to try doing something silly, like lying down on the couch, you were likely to sink in the middle and fold up like a cheap ironing board.

My wife and I came into some extra money and decided to take care of some big expenses. We paid off some lingering bills. We  had both of our vehicles repaired (which is okay because my mechanic’s daughter is getting some beautiful braces on her teeth). Of course, we also decided to take a plunge and get a new couch set. We got a great deal on a couch, loveseat and chair. All three pieces recline. The loveseat also rocks when it is not reclined. If that wasn’t enough, the love seat also has a storage compartment in the middle. Mind you, this storage compartment makes the term “love seat” a bit of a misnomer but still, it’s REALLY cool.

However, it appears that the couch set also comes with a vortex. The vortex gets activated when a person gets up from the couch and leave small items such as highlighters and the TV remote on the couch. The moment the person walks away, the item gets sucked down into the couch. This results in 3 adults on a desperate search for the missing item. While it is true that the item in question could have been placed into that nice little storage compartment in the middle of the love seat, the couch vortex also seems to suck away a person’s sense of logic and reason.

Now we are back at the three adults that are now on a quest to find the missing item. This means that the couch, which weighs just under a metric ton, needs to be pushed away from the wall. Once that is done, another of the three adults must crouch down behind the couch with a miner’s helmet to seek the missing item. The missing item is eventually found but not before ALSO finding 4 baby building blocks, a set of car keys, one of the cats (I THINK it was one of ours) and the receipt from the furniture store reminding us of the great deal we got.

The item is back in our hot little hands again and life is well. Is it frustrating to have to go through this ordeal several times a day? Of course it is. Still, once you sit on this couch, you are in hog heaven. As we speak, I am ready to prop up my feet and watch the football game. WAITAMINNIT! WHERE’S THE REMOTE? OH MANNNNNNNN!

She Showed Her Love By Sealing It With a KISS.

I realize that, as I get older, I can be a bit more sappy and sentimental than when I was younger. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those guys who will break into tears while admiring the beauty of the sunrise off Lake Ontario. However, there is a chance I may get a bit emotional when gazing upon a 1958 Sunrise Burst Les Paul. Still, this writing is not about beautiful guitars. Well, actually it is but it isn’t. This is really about my relationship with my wife. This is an illustration of how a husband thinks he understands how much his wife truly loves him after 20 plus years of marriage. I should perhaps backtrack a bit to give some proper context to the story.

Just about two years ago, I got wind that KISS would be performing in my area. I have been a KISS fan since I was eleven years old. I went to see them perform in 1979 in Charlotte, NC. It would be the last tour for the original lineup for nearly 20 years. My wife was wondering if I would be wanting to get tickets to see them at Darien Lake when they were set to perform in 2012. I looked at the concert date and realize this would night be feasible. The date that KISS was scheduled to perform was VERY close to the date that my daughter was due to deliver my grandson. Darien Lake is more than an hour away from where we live. I was worried that my daughter might go into labor while I was at the show. I really wanted to see KISS but I wasn’t going to risk missing a single minute of my grandson’s birth. I also didn’t want to risk telling my daughter: “I’ll leave as soon as they finish I Love It Loud. Keep breathing, Baby Girl but DON’T PUSH!” All joking aside, my instincts proved to be spot on. I was sitting in a hospital room with my daughter the night that KISS was performing at Darien Lake in 2012. To say that my grandson, Taelor-James Robert Schaller, gave every one an incredible show would be grossly understating it [Refer to The Arrival of  a Mighty Warrior].

Fast forward two years later to 2014. I had seen press releases that KISS would be doing a summer tour with Def Leppard. Once again, they were scheduled to perform at Darien Lake in August 2014. A couple of days later advertising began for lawn seats at 50% off. I had commented to my wife that I was tired of getting teased by the Groupon ads.

June 2014 rolls around. As Father’s Day weekend approaches, my wife began experiencing excruciating back pain that stems from an old injury. Her pain resulted in a hospital trip. I was an emotional wreck. I was prepared to scrap a get together with the kids that weekend. My wife insisted that I keep things as planned. I had gotten an early present – a gas grill. My wife’s only stipulation was that I come to see her at the hospital that morning as she had another present.

As requested, I went to visit my wife on the morning of Father’s Day. My daughter, Brianna and her fiancée, Michael were there to present me with my gift. For the first time, I got “boxed”. This means that a larger gift wrapped box contained several smaller gift wrapped boxes (each smaller boxes contained within a larger box). After unwrapping the fourth or fifth gift wrapped box (I stopped counting after the third), I found the gift. In my hands were a print out of two tickets for KISS and Def Leppard at Darien Lake August 13, 2014. To make it even sweeter, these were seats inside the shell. This would be a much different experience than when I sat at the top of the balcony at the Charlotte Coliseum with my Dad (though that was a COOL experience).

Again, I must provide some context here. My wife is horrible at keeping secrets. This is especially true when it comes to surprises or gifts.  Giving gifts is just as exciting for my wife as receiving a gift. Many times over the years, the excitement has overcome my wife and a surprise has been revealed prematurely. With that in mind, I found out that my wife had purchased these concerts tickets several months prior and had been sitting on this information all this time. That fact was almost as overwhelming of a gift as the tickets.

The concert day had arrived and I rode to Darien Lake with my son in-law Michael [ Note:He is not to be confused with my other daughter’s fiancée whose name is also Michael. Try to keep up]. As we waited for Def Leppard to start, we got a small meal which cost Michael a small fortune. As the excitement was building, my wife texted me: “Give me a call when you are on the way home”. She was as excited about me going to this concert as I was. I knew she would want details.

As expected, Def Leppard put on an AWESOME show. When you combine their great vocal harmonies and the guitar prowess of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, it’s hard to have a bad experience. I decided to post some blurbs to Facebook about the show to let my wife know that I was getting her money’s worth. It was at this point when I got an even bigger illustration of my wife’s love for me.

After I posted my status, I was scrolling down the newsfeed for my Facebook. It was at this point that I found a disturbing post from one of my wife’s sisters who lives out of state. Earlier that evening, after Michael and I had already left for Darien Lake, the family had received notification that one of their brothers had passed away unexpectedly. I was pretty taken back and was telling Michael what I had read. THIS was why my wife wanted me to call. But she wanted me to call AFTER the show. Michael and I had quickly concluded what her rationale was. My wife wanted me to enjoy the show. She went out of her way to instruct the kids not to post anything on the Internet until after the show. My wife KNEW that if she told me earlier in the evening, Michael and I would have left and came home to offer support to my wife. My wife, in spite of her grief, deliberately withheld the tragic news from me. I fought the urge to leave as I felt it would have only upset my wife more given her intentions for me that evening. So I decided to return my love to my wife and pretend NOT to know what had happened.

KISS did not disappoint. From the opening riff of Psycho Circus to the closing chords of Rock and Roll All Nite, my son in-law and I drank in every explosive, pyrotechnical moment. Michael and I both saved a piece of confetti from the show. Once we got back to Michael’s car, I called my wife. She asked me about the show. She was so happy to hear I had a good time and she had been looking forward to it as much as I had. I then told her I was aware of her brother’s passing. I told her that I understood why she waited to tell me and that her suspicions were correct. I told her how much I appreciated the generosity of her loving gesture and I was so sorry for her loss.

In the days that followed, I supported my wife and her siblings as well as I knew how through their tragic loss. Her brother was a good man of whom I have many good memories. He always showed me great hospitality. Still, as I think back on all of this, I cannot help but be moved by my wife’s generosity from the moment she bought the tickets for a Father’s Day. Just when I THOUGHT I understood just HOW MUCH my wife loves me, she outdid herself by illustrating that love in a way that was (and still is) bigger than I could have imagined.

In closing, all I can say is a big huge to THANK YOU to Def Leppard, KISS, my son in-law and (most importantly) my wife for providing me with a night I will never forget.