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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 64 (In Memoriam Edition)


Here's a basic & a timely lesson in Science:
Let's suppose, very unfortunately, that your doctor diagnoses you with having cancer.  Let's also suppose that you have unlimited financial resources.  Based on those unlimited resources, you are able to see 99 other doctors for a second (and third...up to 99th) opinion.  In all of those 100 diagnoses, 98 of the doctors said that you do, in fact, have cancer.  Two doctors, one of whom is not a specialist, by the way, said that you do not have cancer.  The question is this:  At the end of all of this, do you now think that you have cancer and will you seek out appropriate treatment?

Science is about coming up with a hypothesis (i.e. you have cancer) based upon the preponderance of the evidence (i.e. data from medical test results).  That hypothesis then stands up to scrutiny and is either validated or proven wrong...again...based upon the preponderance of evidence/data.  Not faith.  Not the opinion of a politician or his enablers.

The moral is this:  If in doubt about something related to biology (or climatology, or astronomy, etc.), look for what consensus of what science tells you.  Ignore fringe opinions.  And certainly ignore the opinions of those who are not experts, most especially those who are politicians or media talking heads.

* * * * * *

The lilacs are in bloom, including the two small bushes I planted last Spring.



My mother loved lilacs, and I have to confess that I am rather fond of them myself.  Lilacs are interesting plants in that they are very slow-growing, they can be very long-lived and for the most part pretty damn unimpressive as far as bushes go.  Yet, those two or so weeks in mid-spring when they are in bloom, they are the kings of the plant world.  Sometimes a single grand gesture can make up for a year's worth of mediocrity.

* * * * * *

(My brother in his natural habitat...the kitchen)

Today would have been my brother Chris's 55th birthday.  To honor him on this day, I'll talk about some of his very human qualities.

First, Chris was well-read.  Like me, he wasn't all that interested in fiction (unless you include the border-line fictional writings of Ann Coulter), but he devoured biographies, especially about musicians.  He also loved the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe.  There were more than a few books we traded over the years.  In fact, the last gift I got for Chris was I Am Brian Wilson.

Second, Chris was tidy.  Another trait we had in common, absolutely the result of how we were raised, was the fact that he was very neat and tidy.  Wherever he lived, the place was always well taken care of, including (and especially) the kitchen, where he loved spending time.

Third, Chris loved to cook.  I have little interest in food for the most part; I don't like to cook and my tastes tend to run in the simple/boring.  Chris, on the other hand, just loved cooking and eating different things.  He shared the later with my older brother Rich, who will basically eat just about anything once.  No matter what he was actually doing to earn a living, he almost always had a cooking side-job.

Fourth, Chris was very good-hearted.  While he was quick with what could be some insensitive humor (see "Finally, ..."), in reality, Chris had no time for racists, racism, bigots, or anything else of that same ilk.  This is one of the reasons why I firmly believe that this often-spouted love for some political conservatives was actually more about theater (and cheesing off our mother) than anything else.

Fifth, Chris was the only one of us with any shred of athletic ability.  While I played a little bit of basketball, in reality, I have little in the way of natural athletic ability.  Chris, on the other hand, was both a runner and an amateur boxer.  I could tell when life was getting the better of Chris as he stopped running, something that he truly enjoyed.

Sixth, Chris was very thrifty.  I think part of that was also a reaction who how we were raised.  Regardless, it was sometimes almost comical in its application.  For example, the first new car he ever owned was a completely generic small economy vehicle.  No air conditioning.  Crank windows.  A standard transmission (Chris preferred standards; I can barely drive one).  AM radio.  I don't think the thing even had carpeting.

Seventh, Chris loved music.  His tastes in music generally were more bent towards the blues and jazz, with some Rolling Stones and The Doors thrown in for good measure.  My musical tastes, on the other hand, are nowhere near as diverse as his.

Eighth, Chis was incredibly gregarious.  Chris could literally walk up and talk to just about anyone.  For the most part, that's not something I enjoy doing.  Yes, Chris naturally was outgoing and engaging.  So many times in my life I wish I would have had that talent.

Finally, Chris had a wickedly funny sense of humor.  While we disagreed on many things in life, we absolutely shared a very similar sense of humor, with a good portion of it being (mostly) offensive.  There was this element of shock in humor that he enjoyed, including seeing the reaction of someone to something he would say.  Here are just a few examples:
  • The first words he ever said to my (now) wife Chris involved a midget porn joke.
  • He's the first person I've ever heard actually using the term GILF.  And no, I will not define that, for the record.
  • His ability to perfectly time a wholly inappropriate reference to the movie Children of the Corn.  It didn't matter that he (and myself) were just about the only ones who actually got the joke.  Like most naturally funny people, for the most part, it was all just about entertaining himself...the rest of us where just along for the ride.  He had similar "movie drops" for A Clockwork Orange and The Naked Civil Servant.  

Happy Birthday on the Other Side my brother.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 59 (Squirrels & Greed Edition)

(The above is not open to debate, at least with me)

I don't see ditching the mask any time soon.  In fact, I just ordered something to use while hiking/outdoor work.  Yes, I get that they are a pain in the rear-end.  Do you want to know what would be a bigger pain in the rear-end?  The knowledge that I may have inadvertently contributed to someone else getting sick.  It's the kind of small sacrifice thing that Americans used to be really good at, a long time ago, before the "Greed is Good" era came about.

The squirrels keep eating.


I love having a bird feeder, and surprisingly, I love having squirrels around as well.  Granted that I've already noted the cold war that exists between myself and the squirrels relative to the bird feeder.  The last escalation when the squirrels deployed swing technology to empty the feeder.  What, may you ask, is "swing technology"?  Well, since they can not get to the feeder directly, they figured out that they can get on top of the feeder and swing it enough such that seed spills onto the ground.  They did this so much that the feeder contents completely emptied in about two days (normally the feeder, sans squirrel tech, lasts about a week).  I'm still pondering my response to swing tech.

As a side note, I still feed the squirrels peanuts every morning. They do need a balanced diet after all, and peanuts are high in protein.  Besides, there is nothing quite as adorable as a squirrel picking up a shelled peanut in its little hands.  For the most part, what they do is pick the shelled peanut up, inspect it for a moment, put it in their little squirrel mouth, and then frolic away somewhere to eat the peanut in peace.

Why am I even mentioning this?

I guess I see something of a larger lesson in squirrels.  Like people, they can be a pain in the rear-end, but yet what they do (unlike people, at least sometimes) isn't malicious.  Squirrels raid bird-feeders...that's what they do.  It's in their nature.  In fact, something would be wrong if they weren't continuously trying to raid the bird-feeder.  They don't take the birdseed because they simply want to acquire and horde lots of stuff...unlike people...they do it because they need the food.  There are times when I have a lot more sympathy for the squirrels in my backyard than I do some of the people I read about in the news.  Greed is not, in fact, good.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 53 (Some Good News edition)


The brave new world continues, although, as previously noted, I do see change coming.  I honestly and sincerely hope that we end up in a better place after the worst of this has concluded.  I mean that in the most macro of senses, as I know that for some, the recovery here will be long and painful.  Think of your local small business that has so far been forced to close.

Here's some of the good that I think will come out of the pandemic:
  • Work - A greater appreciation for the value of work, particularly on the front-lines of the economy.  Millionaires and billionaires may be insulated from many of the mundane things of life, but they still need people working at their businesses and supplying the food they ultimately have to eat.  These front-line folks need to be better valued by our economy.
  • Compassion - COVID-19 doesn't care if you are an immigrant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim a progressive, or conservative.  At a very basic level neither should you or I.  This whole festering mess proves that we need compassion more than ever.  Speaking of compassion, the video from (former) President George W. Bush is a terrific example of it in the public arena. While I didn't agree with many of his policies, I never doubted for a moment that President Bush is a good man.
  
  • Truth - While many of our fellow citizens easily get caught up in various conspiracy theories and "latest thing" YouTube videos, in the end, COVID-19 is pretty much gas-lighting proof.  Even if someone does, for reasons that escape me, believe this whole thing is a hoax, sadly (I will add) the point will come when a friend/family member will come down with the disease.  At that point the conversion back to reality will be complete.
  • Healthcare - I honestly hope that on the backside of the current situation will come a renewed discussion about the necessity of universal healthcare in the United States.  We can't be the "greatest nation on Earth" while simultaneously rationing healthcare based upon the ability to pay.  We're better than that, and no one should ever have to declare bankruptcy because they couldn't pay their medical bills.  
  • Family - Having families "stuck together" isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I see more families walking together in my small town now than I ever did before.  I hope that continues.
  • Small Businesses - Another hope is that people will better appreciate the value of small businesses and do everything they can to support them once the economy opens up.  Shareholders don't care about you and me; your family-owned local hardware store does.
Speaking of good news, actor John Krasinski has been putting on a weekly YouTube show called
SGN (Some Good News).  You can find all of them HERE at his YouTube channel.  The latest installment is noted directly below.


Watching these videos gives me hope for the future.

On a more local level (really as local as it can get, seeing as though the following is pretty much all in my head), having more time at home does have it's ups and downs.  Seeing as though this is the "Some Good News" edition of Exile on Corona Street, here's part of what I've been up to.
  • Professional Stuff - Not much I want to report here, other than I'm working the whole job search endeavor.  Eventually, there will be some good news.
  • Learning - I've been fascinated by the whole Sovereign Citizen movement, so I've spent a few hours learning about the beliefs of this sub-set of our collective culture.  This includes listening to courtroom records of Sovereign Citizens during hearings and trials.  The fervency of these individuals reminds me a lot of Scientology (something else I've studied over the years), all be it without the organizational structure and Hollywood celebrities.  
  • Home (Inside) - I finally got around to organizing an odd lot of old documents.  I am, admittedly, something of an organization nut; I have 30 years of my professional life organized into binders, as well as personal financial and other things.  In an odd sort of way it makes me feel better.  I'll also confess to being probably in that 1% of adult males who actually has his own scrapbook.
  • Home (Outside) - There has been some planting already, including two honeysuckle plants in our backyard that, in a year or so, will hopefully make the space smell really, really nice.  We're also working on having our rear parking area re-graveled, we're planting a small garden this year and I am finishing the last section of covering for our front porch.  One of these days I need to organize the garage.
  • Technology - Given the fact that remote work will likely be a thing for many in the months and years to come, I've upgraded some of my home office technology.  This includes adding a dual-monitor set-up, an HD webcam, and a Blue Nessie microphone, which we will be testing during a Zoom meeting tomorrow morning.  I've also finally gotten around to installing an exterior digital antenna for my office television.  So far I'm only getting 5 local stations (2 WNEP, 3 WVIA), but I've set it up so that I can re-locate it for better reception.  
There are other things going on as well, but at this stage, the above is enough.  Hopefully any and everyone reading this is also using their new-found home time to make some improvements...of their residence, intellect, etc.

On that note, I'm going to call this posting concluded.  Please do be careful out there.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 47 (& the Importance of Mental Health)

Go to this site for the above-referenced support =>  https://www.covidmentalhealthsupport.org/

It's almost hard to fathom the toll that this whole pandemic mess is having; while we are bombarded with stories related to the physical health of COVID-19 patients, it's easy to forget the emotional toll these days are taking on so many.  I hold myself fortunate in that regard, as I am doing decidedly okay.  I will note though that (as James Taylor sang), I've seen my share of "fire and rain".  Regardless, I do think that once we are out of crisis mode, there will be an even greater need for mental health support by many.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a real thing, and sometimes it doesn't manifest itself until years after the event.  You can learn more about PTSD by clicking HERE.

Changing gears, well kind of, I was in the shower on Wednesday morning and as I turned on the radio, this song was playing:


I don't consider myself a big fan of the whole Southern Rock genre, but I have been known to enjoy some "Skynyrd" from time to time.  In fact, I've probably heard this particular song a hundred or so times, but it wasn't until Wednesday that I really heard the following lyric:

Oo-oo that smell, 
can't you smell that smell?
Oo-oo that smell, 
the smell of death's around you

Not only did I hear the words, but I understood them, maybe for the first time.  



As I am in the shower, radio blaring (Ms. River was already up, being productive as part of her work from the home gig), that line is sung and almost immediately my mind is brought back to late morning on January 5, 2017.  That's when I went to my brother Chris' house to check up on him, at the urging of his boss at the Office of Mine Safety and Health Administration, who had called me with a worried tone to his voice.  Side note:  When you are on a first-name basis with your brother's boss, well, it's usually not a good sign.  Anyway, I was eating a late breakfast/early lunch at Denny's after having spent an hour or so at the gym.  At the time, I was still looking for a new job with few prospects in the pipeline, so part of my daily routine was getting up, putting my to-do list together for the day, checking the job boards, and heading over to the gym.  Anyway, I headed up to Scranton to check on Chris.

By the way, I'm sure I've recounted most of this story before, so I'll apologize in advance for any redundancy.

Arriving at Chris' house in Scranton (I had already tried to call him multiple times), I knocked on the front door to no avail.  Luckily for me, well if you want to call it "luck", the front door was unlocked.  That led me to open the front door, where three things hit me immediately:
  1. I could hear the radio playing upstairs.
  2. I was an icebox in the house, even colder inside than out (it was in the teens that morning).
  3. "That smell"*.
There was no power in the house, and as a result, there was no heat.  The radio that was playing was apparently running on batteries.  As I called for him to no avail, I almost instinctively went upstairs.  Part of the reason why I didn't look around on the first floor, which I now realize, was the smell...I just wanted to find him, make sure he was okay, and then leave.  The smell was over-powering and hung in the stillness of the cold air like a blanket, smothering everything it came in contact with, including me.

I did find Chris, laying across the top of his bed, face down, his face facing the floor.  I was fortunate in that the room was relatively dark, so I didn't see some of what was in the room, including what Chris went through prior to passing away.  I found out it was a somewhat gruesome scene.  About two weeks later, the Lackawanna County Corner's Office confirmed that he had likely died a minimum least 12 hours beforehand, based in part on the fact that his body had been frozen solid when I came upon him.  There's some contention as to the circumstances of his death; while I had a conversation with a detective in the Scranton Police Department a day or so after finding Chris, noting some suspicions on my part (Chris' daughter had similar suspicions), nothing further was said or done in that area.  Part of me thinks that's just as well.  A saving grace in all of this was the fact that I alone found Chris, saving others the trauma...including having to deal with the "smell of death's around you".


As noted above, I've already written about these events before; details can be found in the archive on this blog (see January 2017).  Part of me feels uneasy recounting these details now, but given the circumstances at hand, I think it's somehow important I speak to my experience in dealing with emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress.  Had someone told me 10 years ago that I would end up personally dealing with PTSD, I would have told them that it was ridiculous, that such things were, for example, what returning soldiers had to face.  It's not.  While I don't dwell on the events of January 5, 2017, very often, just thinking about it in order to write this posting brings back memories of that smell...and the feeling under my fingers of his frozen body as I tried to wake him (that feeling...one of both softness and hardness, is unforgettable).  There isn't a day that goes by though when I don't think about Chris though.  


Bring this monologue full-circle, I know from (the above) experience that there is no shame in seeking help, especially during trying times.  And these are trying times for many.  Trauma isn't something that is easily measured or compared.  I can't say "well my finding my brother dead is worse than you losing your job", mostly because that may not, in fact, be true.  What is true is that we have an absolute obligation to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of our mental health.  We only get one shot at this life thing, and that shot is far too short to ignore problems that can be effectively treated.  


Oh, and lastly, let's be careful out there.



(*) At the time, there were easily had 30+ open cans of honey lager beer in the house, so if I had to describe the "smell of death" it would include a reference to something with alcohol that is sickeningly sweet.