Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: He was the best dog on the planet.

Bonding

Bonding
The author of Mark's Work with Ellie Mae

Guess who's coming for dinner

Guess who's coming for dinner
Blue heron, sitting on the dock of our pond

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

BFF's forever

BFF's forever
Margie and Ellie Mae

Tomatoes and peppers are us.

Tomatoes and peppers are us.
Spicy salsa with roasted peppers, here at HappyDay Farms

Much love, John-Bryan

Much love, John-Bryan
Eric at 26 on the left, and John-Bryan in January of 1973.

Halloween fun

Halloween fun
SmallBoy and Dancing Girl

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Friday, June 29, 2012

Big Things Going On


Big Things Going On
Big things are going on around here; I called Dish Network to reactivate my account, so as to procure Bay Area Comcast, those magical folks who bring the San Francisco Giants to their fans, most of the 162 games of the year.  I think last season, there were a total of three Giants games not televised on some channel or another.
Could there possibly be any connection to the fact that Matt Cain just threw a perfecto, on June 13th, or that the Giants currently have shut out their opponent, four consecutive times?  Let me think about that for a second.  OK, time’s up.  Yes and no would be the answer.  Yes, there is a connection, because I am as amped as I am able to be, without tossing that “mania” term around, and yet have enjoyed listening to the games on the radio immensely, nonetheless.
The answer would also be no, because a stronger reason would be the upcoming 49er season.  Before anyone has a coronary, allow me to assure you that my first love in sports is baseball.  However, when the Niners open up their season, the Giants will still be playing, and hopefully that will extend into October as well.  So the likelihood is that I would have started trying to “work something out,” long about the time my birthday rolls around in the beginning of September.
As it is, what we worked out, is that I have been able to work since the beginning of May, with my legs finally recovering from their fling with Ms. Lethargia, and only my knees remaining with which to contend.  With the work comes the means to defray the cost of said DIsh Network.  All is well with the universe.  It took more than one call to accomplish the deed, but tonight at 6:30, I will be able to watch my first pre-game show of the season.
When I think back to opening days, both on the road in Arizona, and back home a week later against Pittsburg, I was traveling to Mendocino, and could only listen the the games on the truck radio.  When Annie and I were up in Eureka last night, I got to take in Madison Bumgarner’s gem from our room at the Discovery Inn ($64.95 a night).  I did not know for sure how to positively identify any of our three starting outfielders.  
Maybe that is just a stretch, because I saw the footage of Gregor Blanco’s now-famous catch, which helped preserve Matt Cain’s perfect game, so many times that I did indeed recognize him when he came to the plate.  But Melky?  Pagan?  Ryan Theriot?  Joaquin Arias?  Hector Sanchez?  I need introductions and that seems awfully funny.  It takes me back to the days of growing up on Fellowship Street, in SoCal, when the only baseball that was televised were the games between LA and SF, that were played in San Francisco.  So in those days, the Dodgers and Giants played 22 times, eleven at each site.  Of those eleven, maybe a half-dozen were on weekends, when I could have watched them.  (Bedtime was always eight o’clock until I got out of eighth grade.)
Now I even recognize the ball dudes, who “guard” the lines from foul balls.  And when I saw Amy Gutierrez last night, it was like old-times.  She has established herself as a premier authority on the Giants, and obviously has an excellent rapport with the players and coaching staff.  So much of baseball involves its characters and its character.  
The drama that encompasses the sport during the grueling 162-game schedule, unfolds that much more vividly, when viewed via high-definition.  And since I have established that my AT&T Park days are officially over, I look forward to my view from the bench, or couch if you prefer.  I do not have to wait for the popcorn vendor, because I am an expert at popping corn the old-fashioned way, over a gas stove, and I do not have to drive to Larkspur any more, to take the ferry to the ball yard.
I am good to go, and there are big things going on.  Now all we need to do is keep playing our brand of ball: stellar pitching, rabbits in the outfield and on the base-paths, sound defense, and a continuation of timely hitting to support the stellar pitching, to which I have already alluded.  That should bring about the desired result: October baseball without me having to justify the cost of the Dish.  Go Giants!
 

Chemistry in Action


Chemistry in Action
Someone help me out here.  How does a team muster up the fortitude to hurl four consecutive shout-outs? To accomplish the feat one time is always such a complete team effort.  It requires not only that the pitcher be 100% on his game, but that all of the defense in back of him, also perform at the highest level.  In fact the Giants have not made an error in six games.  Though they still lead the National League in total errors, they are beginning to climb out of this deficit.
As I have noted before, a team is in infinitely better shape to have begun the season struggling, before straightening up, than a team that comes out the gate like a firecracker, only to fizzle at the halfway point.  Our pitching, always the foundation upon which our team is built, has not only stepped up the pace, but established new parameters as far as expectations are concerned.  After all, they do not have to shut out the opposition, they only have to limit it to fewer runs than the home team scores.  Let’s just say they are overachieving at this point in time.
The ultimate result of this kind of run of success is confidence.  Most of the brain-trust most closely connected to Timmy, assert that his issue is all about confidence.  He has demonstrated all season, that there is nothing wrong with his mechanics, only with his consistency.  For a pitcher to be able to pitch well for 98 out of a hundred pitches is all well and good, unless those two errant pitches result in enough offense to surpass the heretofore anemic offense that the Giants have provided this past season.
So with the elevation of the pitching and the improvement of the defense, what is left?  How about offense?  I am not going to start giving you stats that prove that we are a better team than last year.  We have Buster back, so I can skip that step.  With Buster Posey on the team, whether he catches or plays first base, he is the heart and soul of the Giants, and he makes them a better team.  He is the franchise, and his presence in the lineup makes any combination of players stronger.
Brian Sabean had to decide over the offseason, whether he would pursue the “big bat,” or whether he would go with speed and defense.  It turned out that by going for the latter, he came mighty close to achieving the former.  I’m talking about the combination of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrerra, playing center and left field respectively, who have provided much of the offense, missing from last year.  Melky is currently hitting around .355, third highest in the league, and Pagan set a franchise record, by hitting in 28 consecutive home games.  Though neither comes under the category of “big bat,” both fit neatly under the label of solid contributors. 
Next, we have seen the two Brandons, Crawford and Belt, emerge in varying degrees, which last year strongly hinted would be the case.  Belt has recently found his swing, and had an excellent run, which has included four home-runs, and a batting average pushing .500.  Add Gregor Blanco, a tantalizing addition to the team because of his potential, and we are seeing the same kind of chemistry starting to bubble that we saw percolating in 2010, and seemed so incapable of catching on last season.  Add to this mix, the rising status of such key components as Hector Sanchez, a promising figure at catcher, Ryan Theriot, Freddie Sanchez’ (remember him?) replacement, and Joaquin Arias, who filled in so adequately for Pablo, and we see the nucleus of a solidly contending team.  There are only three teams in the majors with a better win/loss record, and two of them are in the American League.
The one National league team with a better record, Washington, we will be playing four against right after we finish with Cincinnati.  There never seems to be much variation among the elite teams in baseball.  All have formidable pitching and all pose a threat.  Our record against the National League Central, is 15-7, a remarkable feat.  Now we will see how the NL East pans out.
I saved Santiago Casilla for last, primarily because of how significant the lack of a steady closer was last August and September, when we slipped out of first place, and ended up well-back of the Rattlers, in the NL West.  I also saved him for last because of the manner in which Santiago goes about his business.  Whereas Brian Wilson seemed to need a couple of base runners to get his adrenaline (and ours) going, Casilla seems much more efficient, Sunday’s setback at the hands of the A’s, notwithstanding.
Together, new Giants and old, are combining to establish new heights along the road to this year’s playoffs.  I know I will not be content, until I have seen the Giants in the World Series again, most likely against the resurgent Yankees (I can’t see Texas making it a third straight year).  I’ll stack our starting pitching up against any in baseball, and rely on Bruce Bochy to extract the most out of his talented and underrated lineup.  It worked in 2010 and with Buster back, it should work again this year.  If you don’t believe me, ask any Dodger fan.  A short while ago they were on top.  Now all they can do is watch the Giants’ rapidly disappearing taillights, in the mid-summer night’s twilight.  Get used to it because the vehicle for success has been put into motion, and with Timmy back, nothing is going to slow it down, until it hits the the crowd in downtown San Francisco, next October, at the parade.  Go Giants!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Epic


Epic
As a lifetime fan of baseball, I can only say that these are the times  I live for.  I ramble on continuously about the 162-game schedule that baseball utilizes, to determine which team has the moxie and perseverance, to come out on top.  When two teams go at it, head to head, and one comes out on top, the other is relegated to also-ran status.
Fans who spew out that their team got beaten by an inferior team, or that a team got “lucky,” annoy me.  There is no way that you can say that luck is the determining factor for a 162-game schedule.  A team may get lucky because it doesn’t face Clayton Kershaw on a visit to LA, but a team does not get lucky and win a division or win a World Series.  No, a team battles it out all season, with the other teams within its division, or with teams in other divisions, who want to win every game they can, because they are all competing with fellow division contenders.
There is a lot of adversity over the course of such a grueling period of time.  There are many individual sacrifices made, and there is a lot of teamwork going on.  For every high point, there are corresponding low points.  Four nights ago, the Giants, with Santiago Casilla pitching, were down to the last strike to put Oakland away, when the Athletics’ rookie catcher hit a three-run shot.  End of game, and a painful way to go.  Those are the worst kind.
What do you do?  There was no time to snivel with the LA [hot] Doggers coming into town.  We had to regroup, especially since the Angels were kind enough to dispatch the Doggers on the same night that we were getting “walked off” by Oakland.  It doesn’t matter what happened Sunday night; Monday night does not allow for looking backward.  If a team gets mired in negative events from previous games, that carries over.
Who was slated to start that first game?  The much maligned Barry Zito, who had given up seventeen runs in the previous fourteen innings, and who has alternated between brilliant, and ineffective this season, was the opening series pitcher.  I have to tell you, that when Bruce Bochy elected to sit Buster down for the night, and catch Hector Sanchez, I nodded in agreement, and figured we were essentially giving in on the first game.  That’s because I am on the outside looking in, and have nothing more than past practices to guide my reasoning.
Who could have logically predicted that Zito could shut out any team, let alone the first-place Dodgers?  But that’s baseball, pure and simple.  The most extraordinary things occur routinely, and blend and meld with the harsh realities of so many games, to produce an ambrosia for fans to savor, all summer long.  Baseball differs from football, in that you get a steady diet all summer long, almost every day.  During the fall, all of that sports angst builds up for a three-hour adrenaline rush on the gridiron every Sunday, and it’s all over until the next Sunday.
Having shut out the Bums for the first of the three games, what could the Giants possibly have done as an encore?  Do not forget that the Dodgers came into AT&T Park, three games ahead of the Giants.  Even if we took two of three, we still would have been two back, so you know that Don Mattingly, the Dodger manager, would have been amping up his troops.  He made it clear that going into hostile AT&T Park was a part of the baseball season, and that players had to get used to it.
The team the Giants faced the past three days, is not the same team that was rocking the baseball world, cruising along with the best record in baseball the first two and a half months of the season.  That goes back to the marathon approach I was talking about.  We have a team that has almost completely transformed itself since the end of the 2010 season, and is now coming together.
But the Dodgers have lost Matt Kemp, and have now lost Andre Ethier.
Ryan Vogelsong has been excellent all season, so the second game might have been more expected, a 2-0 shellacking of the Dog-men.  But what about Tim Lincecum?  I have said all season, “Don’t you worry about Timmy.”  Now that he is overcoming his issues, the Giants stand to emerge that much stronger.  Better Timmy struggle the first half of the season than the second half.  
The resulting seven innings of shutout ball, is just Timmy’s way of saying that he has arrived.  For the first time in its 129 year old franchise history, the Giants held the LA Dodgers scoreless for a three-game set.  The New York Giants had last accomplished the feat against a different opponent in 1954, but it had never been done againt the Dodgers.
Like the perfect game Matt Cain threw, it was a once-in-a-franchise occurrence.  I could get used to these happenings.  We still have to play the Dodgers a dozen times this season, but I like our chances  And do not forget that we have beaten Clayton Kershaw twice this season, thank you Ryan Vogelsong.  Go Giants!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Back from the Shadows


Back from the Shadows
I have decided to scrap the bipolar journal, because I simply do not want to spend as much time focused on the elements of MSD, as I have been.  I mean, it’s fun and all that, but not that much fun.  I have decided to return to a more conventional blogging format, simply because I suspect that some people are just not that comfortable with the whole bipolar thing.
Like I am?  Oh, I keep forgetting.  I don’t get a choice.  But I do get a choice about what I write, and so it’s ever onward and upward, with any analogy to be drawn between upward and improvement, that I wish to draw.  It is a foregone conclusion that when I am off my game, the first thing to go is writing.  So focusing constantly on MSD is a hit and miss proposition, and one that I have decided to see just how much I would miss.
My days are filled with forward progress in countless ways, so there is no shortage of available topics.  Just to compare this spring with last spring is as tantalizing of a subject as I could imagine.  The rain did not stop here on the mountain, last year, until June 6th.  For me that meant I could not prepare the garden during April and May, such is my custom, so I started out the shoot six or more weeks behind.
I am sure that it will shock one and all to know that after the harshest winter in our 31 years up here on the ridge, that of 2010-11, we were hurtin’ for certain, financially.  We also were planning this outrageous expedition to Ireland, in September, which would cost $2,004 round-trip, for both tickets for me and Annie.  So I endeavored to turn back the clock, say two decades or so, and go back to work slinging nails on a construction crew.
All was well and good on the site; it was in the “training room” afterwards, when my right shoulder, both knees, and my lower back in general, all combined to gently remind me, that I was no longer in my thirties.  However, I did make a goodly amount of loot, and learned that there is a great deal to be said for free agency, at least as it applies in the trades.
To work on a crew is to be part of a team.  With that team concept, come certain responsibilities which require the ability to put the team ahead of your own personal agenda.  No longer capable of doing that, I have found that there is a need for an independent gunslinger, also known as a handyman, or jack-of-all-trades.  I qualify for the position, merely by virtue of the fact that I have survived on this mountain for those same 31 years to which I alluded earlier.  There’s a lot to be said for perseverance.  
So the kinds of projects I now find myself working on, are the kind that involve one guy, or one guy serving a specific role, such as a sawyer, which does not involve carrying around a slew of twenty-foot-long, two-by-ten, green fir rafters, so as to be able to hoist them up to the dudes on the roof.  I can’t be up walking around on the rafters anymore, either, because of my jenky knees.  I can’t be on the ground and I can’t be on the roof.  So I like my new arrangement because no one is inconvenienced.
I am currently working on a workshop-expansion project, which is a multi-leveled structure, with some interesting aspects.  I am not a whirling dervish, but I am self-sufficient, and require no assistance.  The kinds of projects I work on are rewarding and allow me to pursue my livelihood, with a new-found resolution to approach each one with a spirit of organization, and a stress-free environment.
I can usually find ample stress to go around, without really trying, so if I see that as part of an upcoming agenda, I am sure to steer clear.  That’s the advantage of being retired, and of driving my own rig.  I can keep both of my hands on the steering wheel, and it’s all systems go, for me and those around me, or I can take my hands off the steering wheel, and watch the fun begin.
Would anyone like some potato chips?  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Fireworks


June Fireworks
“So, it’s just you and me, Babe, tonight.  I hope the boys are up for the task of keeping them Dodgers in line.”  I glanced over at my Sylvie, and thought to myself that she hadn’t changed in the thirty-one years we’d been together.  We’d gone to Giants games back in 1981, before we’d moved too far north to make more than one trek per year.
“Wonder who our seat-mates will be.”  We had the third and fourth seats in, so we would have unknowns sitting on both sides of us.  It’s funny how that works.  I have sat next to someone and become great friends, and I have sat next to fans, without ever exchanging a word.  It all depends on the circumstances.  I like to start off slowly, and warm up to the task, as opposed to jumping in with both feet, and then spending the next three hours, trying to retract those feet.
As fans trudged up the steps towards us, checking their ticket stubs against the labels on each seat, I tried to figure out in advance, who it was that I wanted to have sit beside me.  For instance, that fat guy with the Dodgers hat, and the broad who looks young enough to be his granddaughter, just stay away from me.  I can do without that.  But sure enough, no sooner is the thought out there, when we make eye contact, and the guy signals to his companion, that he has found a match, and the two converge on our territory, and prepare to take up residence.
I am wearing my own hat, a vintage (early eighties) Giants classic, with the orange bill, and the back part of the hat kind of ratty.  I’ve owned it thirty-one years.  Now it only comes out at baseball games actually attended.  The Dodger dude has a brand spanking new LA hat, undoubtedly purchased on the way into the park.  His friend wears the identical model, and the two of them draw up beside us, and it is determined that they are sitting just on the inside of us, with the man and I sitting side by side.  Oh, boy.
First of all, this is the first Dodger/Giants game we have attended since 1981, and there is a reason for that.  The last, at old Candlestick Park, we found ourselves seated way down the left field line, solidly entrenched in a portion of the stands, that seemed to have been magically transported from Chavez Ravine, because it was jammed full of Dodger fans, and there we were, a pair of orange buoys, in a blue sea.  Friendly rivalry is all well and good, if the two sides are more or less balanced, but it was awfully hard to stand and cheer for good things, when you feared that the whole row of Dodger fans behind you, might unexpectedly, collectively lose their tumblers of beer, all over our backs.
I eyed the man coolly, from my already-established spot, once he was seated, waiting to find out whether or not this was likely to end up a beneficial arrangement.  Sylvie and I had an ongoing agreement, that if I gave the signal, she would find a reason to want to be in my seat, and we would swap.
I fully expected him to have his head buried in his friend’s space, but found much to my surprise, that the two of them had been here many times before, and were quite familiar with the venue.  It also became immediately evident, that the two were quite familiar with one another, but not in the way I had imagined.  The young lady WAS his granddaughter, and she was only about sixteen or seventeen.  Their conversation, as they settled themselves, indicated that this was somewhat of a ritual, that they took in several of the Dodgers/Giants games in San Fran each season.
He glanced over at me, made eye contact again, and nodded.  “Come to see some old-fashioned butt-kicking?” he asked congenially.  “I guess you maybe heard that they’re going to go ahead and pitch Zito.  What a joke.  The way he’s been lit up his last three starts, he won’t last into the third inning.  What is it?  Seventeen runs given up in fourteen innings?”  He laughed uproariously, while rubbing his hands together.
“Well,” I responded, since he had tossed out the gauntlet, “now that you mention it, that’s exactly what I came to see.  An old-fashioned butt-whipping.  How pleasant it is to find that a Dodger fan and I agree on something.”
“Whoa, hold on a second, son.  I don’t think we agree on anything.  I think our team is gonna light Zito up like it’s the Fourth come a week early.  Zito will serve up some gun powder-filled baseballs, and Ethier and Company will send them into the Bay.”
“Well, you may be right, but I would not count Barry Zito out of anything, before the game starts.  He has a way of surprising us, when we least expect it.”  I was not willing to go with the conventional logic.  If I were, then I would be dissing on Timmy too, and I won’t do that.  He’ll get it together.
I had no sooner had the thought, when Dodger Dog mentioned casually, “Speaking of surprising, what’s wrong with Lincecum?  Been smoking too much pot?”  The way he spat out the word pot, gave me an inkling of what he thought about anyone’s use of marijuana.
“There is nothing wrong with Lincecum, that every other player hasn’t gone through at one time or another.  He is struggling, and needs to get his confidence back.  Don’t you worry about Timmy; we’ll see him on Wednesday.”  I get so tired of people expecting that a guy should be a Cy Young candidate every year.  Yes, Timmy has been struggling, but you have to let him work it out.  He’s a proven commodity, and it just takes time.
“Look,” said Dodger [Hot] Dog, “the Giants are just like they were two years ago, a bunch of rookies, and also-rans, who are getting lucky.  We’ll see the true side of these guys in about...” consulting his watch, “...seven minutes.”
“Well, I agree with that-we’ll see the true side all right.  Get ready to eat a little crow.”  I sat back, wishing I felt as confident as I sounded.  My own faith in Barry Zito, extended only as far as his control.  If he keeps walking guys with impunity, it going to come back to bite him in the butt.
“Really?  I’M going to eat crow?  I don’t think so,” DD droned on.  “I heard Bochy is even sitting Buster Posey down, and letting Sanchez catch Zito.  Posey is the only legitimate power your team has.  Pablo Sandoval has only had one extra base hit, in the two weeks since he’s come back.  Your team is going to lay an egg.”
Damn.  Why does this guy have to know everything about us?  He paints a bleak picture.  I guess I’ll just have to arrange the signal with Sylvie for earlier than I imagined.  “Well, the only egg I see the Giants laying, is a golden one.”  It was the best I could do.  Meanwhile, we were standing for the Star-Spangled Banner, and I let my agitation simmer on the back burner, and turned my attention to filling out my line-up, once we had sat down again.
When Zito walked the lead-off Dodger, the fat man was chortling.  He changed his tune a minute later, as Theriot made a nifty play to begin a double play, and the third batter grounded weakly to short.  When the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the first, the man was leaning forward expectantly, and the fun began.  Blanco struck out, but Theriot managed an infield hit, and Pagan blooped a base-hit that fell between the shortstop and the outfielder.  When Melky Cabrera’s shot down the first base line, caromed off the bag, and into the right field bullpen area, both runners scored, and the Giants were on their way to an 8-0 rout. 
And that is why I never make predictions.  How Zito could pick this particular game, to recover from having given up seventeen runs in his last fourteen innings, is beyond me.  It is one reason why I am a fan.  Players pick and choose their times to shine, in the course of a one hundred and sixty-two game schedule.  Zito picked tonight, and I’m glad he did. It sure made my stay at the park, a delight last night.  It just may be, that I do not allow another thirty-one years to go by, before I see another Giants/Dodgers game. 
June 25, 2012; @ AT&T Park; Dodgers versus Giants; final score: Giants 8,  Dodgers, 0

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Without a Clue


This is the sixth in this series of the adventures of Sylvester B Stilldumm, entrepreneurial  investigative engineer, and his associate, Butch.
Without a Clue

My name is Stilldumm, B Sylvester.  I’ve taken to introducing myself with my last name first, my first name last, and that pesky B right in the middle, but not acting as a verb.  I mean, Sylvester B Stilldumm, sounds a bit too questionable to attract serious clients.  I was parked in my office, with my feet occupying a prominent place on my desk, when my saintly mother burst through the front door of my office, and barked out, “Get those clodhoppers off of my desk.”  Saintly may be stretching it just a tad.
“Ma.  How nice to see you, from behind MY desk, thank you very much.  What brings your smiling face to my front step, on this fine Monday morning?”  My legs had dropped to the floor of their own accord, almost landing on Butch, my trusty associate, he of the multi-toed front paws.  Yes, Butch is a cat, and his throaty growl warned me, that I had come close to drawing back a stump-or two-just now.
“Other than the fact that it’s TUESDAY, nothing BRINGS me here, so much as it drags me, scratching and clawing, every step of the way.”
“Monday, Tuesday...don’t go technical on me.  And if you came in with your claws retracted, I wouldn’t know who you were.”  I accompanied that last bit of witticism, with a broad smile, to keep her off the track.  She didn’t really listen to words, so much as she listened to your tone of voice.  You know how moms are.  I don’t know how many times had I heard, “Don’t you use that tone of voice with me, young man!”
“But, Ma, I was telling you that I loved you, and I’m 57, for Buddha’s sake.”  I may as well have been talking to a light-pole; at least things would be more illuminating.  
Now I asked her, “So, what brings you into my office this morning?  And are you sure it’s Tuesday?”  I was certain that I would know if it was Tuesday, because that would mean I had survived Monday.  “Never mind.  We can figure out the complicated stuff later, if and when we ever need to.  Why are you here?”  I was getting nervous because Ma usually avoided my office like the plague, and when she showed up, well, it was sort of like a visit from that same plague, if you will pardon the analogy.  
“Why do I need a reason to come and see you?  Have you been misbehaving?”  She stared malevolently at me.
“Ma, you know better than that.  I am just trying to make a living, working overtime, and keeping on Butch’s good side.”
“You have to work first, Sonny-Boy, in order to make any loot.  Unless you gat paid to droop your feet over your desk, I suggest you start right now, because I have a job for you, concerning your no-good brother, who just got out of San Quentin’s home for wayward boys.  And as for that...cat...just keep him away from me.”  Butch turned haughtily, at the sound of his name, and twitched his tail, just as a reminder that he had felled [literally] more than one dastardly deedster, doing his distinguished duties.
My mother had a thing about work measuring up to the task, or something like that.  Hell, she had regularly balked at paying my allowance.  Why I would ever expect her to pay me a retainer, was beyond me, as I nonetheless put a standard contract in front of her, and watched as she picked up a pen and scrawled, “Mom.”
Damn, she was tough.  “OK, Ma, what’s up?  I’ll get back to the retainer, when I have gotten to the bottom of your problem, which is?”
“It’s about time you stopped babbling, and let me start.  Wait a minute-that’s not what I meant.  I meant that I’m here because your brother filed a lawsuit against me, claiming I ripped off his baseball card collection, when he left home.”
“How long ago was that?”  I was a little fuzzy with family history.
“Well he ended up in the big house in 1972, and he hasn’t been back since, thank my lucky stars.  So now he wants his baseball cards, and I don’t have a clue.”
“Listen, Ma, no sense dwelling on the obvious; being clueless has never stopped me.  What about these alleged baseball cards?  Did he itemize which cards were missing?” 
She sneered at me, that upper lip curling like a dead caterpillar.  “He gave me this, and said, one of each.”  She handed me over the latest copy of Beck’s baseball card listings.  I got the message.  He wanted some cards and he wanted to make sure that what he got, matched his idea, of what he had once had.  It was all too clear to me, even if it was not all too clear to him also, that he had his head stuck in a porcelain bucket.
That could be the reason he has no memory of the business that was conducted the night Archie Fenwick breezed into our garage, on his Sting-Ray bicycle, his knobby knees, sticking out on either side of the 20-inch tires, like a middle schooler riding a tot’s tricycle.  I had been following Archie, and that’s where he led me.  I had been peering through the open garage door, as Archie and Bubba conversed.
“Ma, Bubba’s living in a dream world; he has electricity, but the light's still off.  He coughed up his baseball card collection, in the fall before he went away, to Archie, who had a little Ponzi scheme going, which netted him every single baseball card in the neighborhood.  I ought to know; I held out on my Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale cards for a month, but Archie eventually nailed me in the alley, and forced me to give them up.  So I was keeping an eye on Archie, to see who else got burned.”  
Mother was righteously indignant.  “What the fudge?  I’ll let that little weasel have it right in the gizzard, when he has the audacity to present his whiskered face in my house again.”  It did me good to see my mother on a mission, especially if it involved pounding Bubba’s head into pulp.
“You do that, Ma.  Meanwhile, could you make the check out to Sylvester B. Stilldumm, please?  I was just on my way to the bank.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

(23) You Call it Bipolar- I Call it MSD: A Most Unusual Question


You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD
A Most Unusual Question
Dr. Mark began with a most unusual question yesterday, as Annie and I sat ourselves down in his office.  He asked, “How was your week?”
The reason I found the question unusual was that I never heard it from my last psychiatrist.  I think that was something that somewhat disconcerted me: I felt as though I were an object of interest, more than I was a patient.  The irony is that when I really needed that kind of support from my doctor, I did not get it; now that things are flowing so smoothly, I now have it available.  Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
In any case the session, my second, was a fact-finding venture, with Dr. Mark acquiring information, and Annie and I furnishing it.  Having already prepared some of the basic stuff for Dr. G, I had printed off copies for Dr. Mark, and so that facilitated matters.  We covered my somewhat pedantic drug history, and the fact that I am not much of a drinker; we went much more into detail on my use of reefer.  Dr. Phelps calls it the poor man’s mood stabilizer.
Dr. Phelps is the psychiatrist who wrote the book, Why Am I still So Depressed? and he maintains that lower-income people, who cannot afford to buy their antipsychotic medication, often self-medicate, using reefer.  It has certainly done much for me, to the extent that my rate of indulging increases when I am manic, and decreases when I am depressive.  But I am a steady partaker, no matter what my state of mind, though I no longer bake my oatmeal cookies.
Annie has always maintained that I amped far more than ever when I was eating my reefer, instead of smoking it.  I thought it was healthier, but it obviously was not healthier for Annie, who does not indulge in the herb, in any way, shape or form.  She does not get in my face about it, because she understands that it is my medicine.  I, on the other hand, attempt to keep the residual effects of my medicine, out of her face, by retiring to the laundry room, or going outside. 
I also provided Mark with several pieces of writing I had done about my father, including the piece in this series called (4) I Call it Bipolar-You Call it MSD: Is Your Head Screwed on Right?  Again, genetics figures significantly, in forming a diagnosis for mood spectrum disorder, and I wanted Mark to get the benefit of the time and energy I had put into writing the pieces, more for myself than for Dr. G.
In setting up the nest session, in two weeks’ time, he informed us that he would be getting into some of the facets of ISRT, Interpersonal Social Rhythm Therapy, that I had originally told him we were interested in  working on, along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  He even asked me to bring my mood charts!  Heart, don’t stop.  I waited for Dr. G. to express one iota of interest, in all that data I was accumulating, and he never once asked to see them.
It made me second-guess my own limited knowledge, of what it was I was trying to accomplish with the accumulation of data, related to MSD.  Of course, the “rhythm” part of the ISRT show, refers to the rhythm of my sleep, diet and exercise programs, and how they tie in to the hills and valleys which comprise the road I am on.  The goal is to neatly gather all of the data, see how it affects the triggers of my illness, and vice-versa.
Then we will take what we learn from the chart, and the external factors that are influenced by the chart, and apply them to the social fabric, which constitutes our community on the mountain, and see if we can’t iron out a few logistical wrinkles.  The idea is to take the cognitive part of the dog and pony show, weave it within the framework of the rhythm and social elements, and design a therapeutic program, which allows me to be able to continue to answer the question at the the start of the session, in the same manner, I answered it yesterday.
“I had an extraordinary week, than you so much for asking.”

Attitude


Attitude
The man lay sleeping on the park bench, one of only two benches in the little neighborhood oasis of green.  The corner tract was well-tended, lush, green and shady.  Whereas the heat in Ukiah was pushing ninety-five, under the spreading oak leaves, the park felt as though it were luxurious and a pure delight, except for that sleeping guy.  He had a newspaper folded over his face, which lent him an air of respectability, but he was still out-of-place in the well-kept corner sanctuary.
We had just pulled into the corner parking lot, across from the park, and were contemplating a stroll across the street, to wait the twenty minutes until our appointment, out under the trees.  Now we hesitated.  We were not close enough to the scene, to see how the man was dressed, the view being partially obscured by low-hanging boughs of the oak trees, so it was hard to tell what sort of individual he was.
“Who cares if some bum is just napping on a bench?” I asked.  “We won’t pay any attention to him, and he won’t pay any attention to us.”
Jacie responded, “It’s kind of creepy, isn’t it?”
“Why is it creepy?  If he were ranting and raving, or foaming at the mouth, it would be creepy.  As it is, he’s asleep, and that’s the way he’s going to stay.  Probably sleeping it off.”
“How much time do we have?”  asked Jacie.
“Close to twenty minutes.  Come on, let’s take a stroll.”  We got out of our truck, locked it, and started across the street, when we saw a group of neighborhood toughs kitty-corner from our spot outside the park.  They were dressed uniformly, in black trousers, and white tee-shirts.  They wore the trappings of the gangs, and they were a chilling spectacle.  We had completed the crossing of the street, and drawn up behind a barrier, formed by a series of landscaped flower boxes, which allowed us to view the scene without being seen.
The drama unfolded without delay, and was concluded less that a minute later.  The youths had made a bee-line for the sleeping man, (let’s call him Rip) and Jacie and I had contemplated heading back in the direction of the truck, when we realized that Rip had been pulled to his feet, and was now surrounded by the four thugs.  For that’s what they were, pure and simple.  They were four ruffians together, who went about the ‘hood, running roughshod on the denizens within their domain, and striking terror into the hearts and minds of anyone uninformed enough to venture into their locale.
That appeared to be the case, as we stood and watched the rapidly developing scenario.  What we had expected to see, was some sort of buildup, to what would undoubtedly be a sordid and violent act.  I was in no physical or psychological mode to be able to help the hapless victim, being sixty myself, with little or no means of defending myself, or some bum, against the likes of these dudes.  Even if I had thought to whip out my phone and try to summon Ukiah’s constabulary, the effort would have proved fruitless.  It was all over before the shooting started, so to speak.
Our attention was riveted on the central player, a mean-looking guy, with a long, frizzy pony-tail.  He had been the one to originally grab the sleeping man by his coat, after first sweeping the newspaper aside.  However, as he was in the act of dragging the man to his feet, be became aware of two things simultaneously: the man was not a bum, and he was rather well-prepared to face a group of obstreperous gang members.
He had a steel ball, the size of a large plum, in his left hand, which was attached to a thin metal cable, strapped to his his wrist and he was very adept, at what appeared to be a home-made device.  He had heaved the ball right into the face of the first guy, hitting him square in the nose, and causing it to spray out a stream of blood, while simultaneously letting out a stream of invective.
When bloody-nose’s buddy to the left lowered his head and charged right at the “victim’s” stomach, the attacked man responded by whirling to one side, as the miscreant waltzed by, and directing a well-placed boot to the side of the charging man’s knee, effectively incapacitating him, while at the same time, using the man’s forward momentum, to cause him to divert his route, right into the third member of the gang, causing them both to go down in a heap.
The fourth punk, a scrappy little rooster of a kid was not about to stay out of the fracas, but he was a sneaky little snake, with a blade in his hand, which he swiped across the man’s chest, with a sideways trust, which looked as though it had been well-practiced.  Unfortunately for the kid, the “bum” from the bench, was a master at the art of defense, avoided the swipe, and sent that steel ball out one more time, as it came to the end of its cable, and wound itself around the arm with the knife.  At that juncture in time, the cable was jerked back with all of the force in his possession, and the kid about had his arm torn out of his socket.
His resounding screech of pain was still reverberating in the air, when he of the bloody nose, saw that they were not opposing the weak and defenseless bum they thought there were dealing with, and signaled retreat.  And it was over that quickly.  The gang had dissolved, my curiosity was at a high peak, and we still had all but one of our minutes still to wait.  We strolled over to Rip, cautiously observing this individual, while dying to get a handle on what it all meant.
“Very simple,” said Rip.  "These same guys jumped my uncle a week or so ago, and I am just back from Afghanistan, with an attitude problem, you know?  My uncle is still in the hospital, but he’ll mend quicker now.”  With that he was gone, leaving us to pick up the strewn newspaper.  On the front page was an article about the recent assault of a Ukiah man, a man who was still recuperating from his injuries.  We had a feeling that his recovery would now be hastened along.  You have to love a man with an attitude.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

(22) You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD: Unfinished Business


You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD
Unfinished Business
Summertime and the living is easy, or so the song goes.  I find it fascinating that when the work increases, and there is too much on my plate, I seem to rise to the occasion, and even get a little giddy about the  whole thing.  Why is it that the more work there is to do, the less time there seems to be to worrying about mood spectrum disorder?
Is there a connection between what is going on around me, and my ability to control my illness?  It would appear to be a circular process, but I have yet to determine cause and effect.  What is evident, is that certain upcoming events create a level of tension, which can serve as a trigger for MSD.  However, equally obvious is that when I am getting good sleep, and maintaining my exercise regimen, I am in infinitely better shape to meet the challenges of a busy summer season.  
One thing I have steadfastly refused to do is berate myself for actions over which I had no control.  Mostly I can rationally view past behavior and sort it all out sufficiently, because most of what occurred to rock our world, took place here on the mountain, and impacted no one outside of the immediate community.
There is one thing, though, that I continue to fixate on, because it feels as though there is unfinished business, and that is the circumstance of Jamal’s murder, which rocked our community last January.  At the time, I was in full manic-mode, with my emotions swirling around in the vast, expansive vat which comprised my brain, and no recognition that I was on a spiraling downward slope, which was to end with me seeing everyone around me moving away from me on the Group W bench of life.
I wrote several pieces about the murder of Jamal in which I expressed outrage, and vowed to pursue the matter until its conclusion, whenever that took place, and whatever that result turned out to be.  It turns out that I made promises that I couldn’t keep, because the nature of my illness is such that I can no longer involve myself in such volatile emotional quagmires, because it throws my life into turmoil, and consequently, the lives of those around me.
Something had to give, and now that I am on the road to recovery, I can see that for the time being at least, stabilization of my illness mandates that I avoid the political arena, even if the circumstances are what they are, and my commitment to the cause was unequivocal.  Stuff happens, and paths change course.  Annie and I have talked over the situation, until we have exhausted all avenues, and our conclusions remain the same.  I can no more turn back the clock and undue Jamal’s killing, than I can turn back the clock to a time when I could commit to a cause, and follow through on it.
So, like many other things in life, I make a conscious decision to pursue one path, and avoid a second.  I have to assume that the family and tight circle of friends that comprised the people around Jamal, read the words that I wrote originally, and accepted them as an offering of genuine support and assistance.  When I wrote about putting my efforts into a college fund for Kaiden, I was operating out of a sincere desire to start a grass-roots effort to hook a little brother up.
Now I tend to view my attempts as part of the overall effects of my illness, a grandiose scheme to build up a coffer of hope and money, so as to make some sort of statement about the unfairness of it all.  I had a vision about a little guy being able to grow up with a community as a father, with a war-chest of funds, to propel him through higher education.  It sounded so good and it was good.  But I am no longer possess the same abilities that I did in an earlier time, so I now must deal from the new deck of life, and anything that threatens to turn into a joker, has to be avoided.
Avoiding hard challenges has never set well with me, but beating myself over the head with a brick, doesn’t set well either.  So, for the time being, I am going to set that brick aside, immerse myself in the frantic pace which makes up the summertime, and let the living be easy.  That’s what the song says, and who am I to argue with the music of life?  I’m sorry, Jamal.  I tried, but I have to set it aside, and I just don’t feel that you’d want me to hide.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

(21) You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD: Just Think Happy Thoughts


You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD:
Just Think Happy Thoughts
The funny thing is I am not feeling especially bipolar these days, and isn’t that a shame?  It goes back to that recognition that the average MSD patient still has normal days, in which there are no manifestations of his disorder, approximately 46% of the time.  So many people are impacted by the seasonal changes, or by fog in the middle of summer, that I feel fortunate to be seemingly unaffected by this element.
As it is, I am swamped with late spring/early summer chores, which leave me little time to ponder the intricacies of my illness.  Conversely, if I were being rocked by various available options, as far as MSD were concerned, then I would not be having the success with my chores that I am.  So it’s a good news/good news proposition: no symptoms and plenty of production.
What a benign period of time like this allows me to do, is work on patterns of behavior, that frequently take their cue from the characteristics of my disorder.  For instance, Sunday presented several low points, completely unrelated to the grand occasion (such as the Giants losing in the ninth) which had me wondering whether I was dealing with my illness, or just plain life.  However, being in the midst of the mellowest stretch of my disorder so far, I knew that I could not blame my illness.  Therefore, my attitude was able to make an adjustment, and I pulled out of it.
The significance is that if I knew that I had one or more red flags present on the mood chart, then it is not simply a case of “suck it up.”  The absence of any red flags told me that there was something I could do about the bumps in the road, without feeling as though I were beating my head against a wall.  I think the idea that seems to predominate an uneducated public, would be the concept that someone who is depressed, can “think happy thoughts” and shake off a depressive frame of mind.  I am guilty of having taken that approach in the past myself.
A side effect of my experiencing a calm period, is that Annie gets to relax.  She also has a full plate, with her quilting practice picking up, and her preparations for market each Wednesday.  We are both devoting a large amount of time to our vegetable garden.  Last summer I was too exhausted from my construction work, to have any energy left for working in the garden.  This summer I said I was no longer capable of keeping up with the younger generation, and that I would no longer work on a crew.
That doesn’t mean I do not work; it just means that I either work by myself, or with one other person.  Another huge difference, is that if I go out to work on the workshop project, and want to take a nap two hours into the project, then I can stop and go take a nap.  That’s not as easy to do when you are working on a crew.  I also decided that working on a crew was unfair, because I can no longer be certain that if I want to work on any given day, that I will be able to do so.  Again, that is not fair to a crew, because if they are counting on someone being there, then that must be taken into consideration.
On Sunday I was motivated to go out and tackle several of the boxes that were being overrun by invasive armies of weeds.  It was still pretty hot up here, around ninety, and I enjoyed the time working with the soil.  While weeding the tomatoes, which are in the ground this year for the first time ever, as opposed to being in thirty-gallon grow-bags, I noticed that we have tomatoes already on all of them  The earliest I have ever harvested a ripe tomato from my garden, is July 18th.  I will undoubtedly have several varieties available earlier than that date this summer.  That is remarkable, but I attribute it to both the excellent starts provided by Casey and Amber, and the mild spring we had up here, which convinced me to ignore conventional logic, and plant outside on May 15th, rather than June 1st.
So just as the tomatoes are progressing nicely, so am I.  Being as busy as I have been, has made it impractical to continue writing on a regular basis, so something has to give.  I continue to write short stories in my head, and occasionally get one down on paper, but otherwise am content to let the events around me dictate the pace.  I go back to Dr. Cerri for my second session on Thursday, and will certainly post on how that goes, but otherwise, I will be perfectly content to cruise lazily along, with nothing about which to write.  You know what they say about no news being good news.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

(20) You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD: They Call the Wind Annoying


You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD
They Call the Wind Annoying
The wind started blowing around a week or so ago.  Have you noticed?  Some of us notice more than others.  When it isn’t blowing, it’s howling.  I am in the most extended period of normalcy I have experienced since prior to last summer.  I am getting the good sleep each 24-hour period, and my legs are as strong as they have been in a year.  But it’s that doggoned wind that I want to talk about this morning.
There was a spate of fires yesterday, sending crews out in all directions, the same crews criss-crossing Mendo County, in order to cover them all.  It’s not surprising when you consider that the heat plus the wind, makes for a volatile combination.  As our favorite local radio weatherman likes to intone, “The low pressure will mix with high pressure, and kick up the pressure gradients, and that will bring about the wind.”  
Around here, we call the wind “annoying.”  It takes its toll on the garden; it creates havoc on the deck, knock pots and knick-knacks off the railing, and it knocks Mr. Crips’s dish under the steps, so I have to go a-hunting.  Lately, it has created havoc with my efforts to keep the lumber covered with a tarp, so that the wind and sun do not cause it to dry and warp, before we use it to build the addition to the workshop.
It goes without saying that I would take rudimentary precautions to protect the fir.  Unfortunately, rudimentary does not cut it in this wind.  The tarp with which I carefully covered the wood, including placing a chunk of four by four redwood on top of it, was meandering down the driveway, when I overtook it and returned it to its rightful spot, atop my pile of fir.  I added a ten-feet-long piece of corrugated metal, ready to get placed on the top of the chicken coop, to the pile, on top of the tarp, and then put the chunk of four-by-four on top of that.
The next morning I came out to find the tarp again traipsing down the avenue, the sheet of corrugated metal and the four by four redwood cast to one side, and I said, wtf, (Whoa, there friend).  I gathered up my scattered wits, and the tarp, and prepared to do it right.  Fighting the wind, every step of the way, I replaced the tarp, tucking the ends under the fir, as well as possible, and put the metal sheet back with the four by four redwood on top of it.  I walked over to my stack of scrap wood and added another redwood post, a chunk of two by six, and just for ood measure, my skill saw.  That ought to do it, I thought.
The next morning I came out to find the tarp again off the stack, and actually missing in action, later turning up in the creek bed. Now I was seeing all shades of red, as I scrambled down the bank of the creek bed, to retrieve the recalcitrant tarp.  I stormed back up the side of the bank, flailing wildly as I got tripped up by a wandering root, and ended up in a heap, carefully cushioned by the crumpled up tarp, i was clutching out in front of me.
I did not even slow down until tarp, redwood posts, various chunks of this and that and my skill saw, were all in place on top of the tarp.  With an air of finality, and more than a slice of bipolar pie, I stalked over to another pile of materials, and reached down and manhandled an unopened bag of Readi-Mix concrete, over to the pile, where I unceremoniously deposited it on top of all that was already there.  If that doesn’t do it, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
The next morning, when I strolled out to the site, the first thing I saw on the ground beside the stack, was that sack of concrete.  The tarp was nowhere to be seen.  We call the wind annoying, but it doesn’t seem to care.