I know it’s been awhile

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(appeared in today’s Patterson Irrigator HERE)

Hello fellow Pattersonites! It’s me. I know it’s been months since I’ve written. Time got away from me. It really did. Seems like just yesterday we were washing our groceries with dish soap and feeling grateful to find 1-ply toilet paper at the store. We didn’t care that our butts were chafed, we were happy to be alive.

I apologize for the delay in checking in, of course, but I thought I should touch base so you know that I’m not dead. Also, I wanted to let you know that I haven’t done anything crazy since last I wrote, either. For example:

#1. I haven’t joined a cult.

#2. I haven’t wasted twenty million dollars to go to space with Elon Musk.

#3. And I definitely haven’t joined an online multi-level marketing scheme to sell organic lip balm to every person I’ve known since 1997.

(Come to think of it, both #2 and #3 are also cults.)

Anyway, I hope you’ve been staying well and safe— and that you aren’t dehydrated from sobbing at the gas pump. So, make sure you drink lots of water and refrain from other activities that are bad for your health, too— like watching TikTok videos or being within six feet of Aaron Rodgers.

A lot has happened since last I wrote— on the local level, on the global level and on the personal level. But I can go no further without remarking on a sad local event. The passing of Ron Swift.

Publisher emeritus, quip master, and all-around stupendous fellow, Patterson will never again know a man as dedicated as Mr. Swift. We were lucky that Ron made this town his home all those years ago. For while Ron knew the things that needed doing, Ron also DID the things that needed doing. And it was done with a wry smile, self-deprecating wit— and little fanfare.

We could all learn something from that.

Seventeen years ago, Ron welcomed me to the Patterson Irrigator columnist family with open arms and was always there if I needed him. I appreciated that very much. He was Patterson’s very own Yoda, offering valuable perspective in a unique way that was always genuine and always unpretentious.

What a guy, Ron was. Missed, he will be.

On the global front, the last two years have been seismic. And, no, I’m not just talking about when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. It’s been crazytown all over the place. For two years. Remember when a bunch of people attacked the US Capitol like zombies from The Walking Dead? Or when Prince Harry decided royal life was total crap? Or when Tom Brady retired from the NFL only to unretire himself a few weeks later?

It’s important to note that during much of this time many of us did not wear real shoes. Only socks or slippers with treads on the bottom for when we went to the grocery store. Or when we walked the 10 feet to our front door to grab the pile of Amazon packages sitting there. Sadly, we went so long without wearing real shoes that we can no longer fit them on our stumpy feet. But, when we go online to buy new (bigger) shoes, we now discover that shoes are 259% more expensive than the last time we bought them.

Yet, truthfully, it hasn’t all been bad. We did learn how to bake banana bread and what it felt like to spend 168 hours a week with our own children. So, there is that.

I do have to say, though, that some things that happened since my last column did come as a surprise to me. For example, I did not have “Putin Goes Ballistic” on my 2022 bingo card. Sure, I’ve made a lot of jokes about Putin in the past. About his shortness, his love of Botox, and the way his beady eyes look like death lasers. But I didn’t think he’d start a reenactment of the year 1939. Maybe I was naive, but you’d think he would have known that it was a bad idea. After all, everyone hates a bully. Everyone. It’s baked into our human genome. We hate bullies just as much as we love chubby babies, ranch dressing and Labradoodles. It’s even in the Bible. (Just ask Goliath.)

On a personal note, since my last column, two big events have happened in my life. First, I got an orange kitten. His name is Charley and he loves cheddar cheese, chasing tin foil balls, and taking naps on my wheelchair— mostly while I’m sitting in it. We’ve acclimated to life together pretty well, especially considering he tries to steal my breakfast two or three times a week. I’m sure I’ll share more about Charley in the coming days. After all, it’s hard for me to write about much else since he spends most of his day sitting on top of me. So, stay tuned.

The other big news? I turned 40. This may not sound like a big deal to most, but to me, it really was. After all, for most of my life, I didn’t know if I would live to see the age of 40 because most born with my disability do not.

As a kid, reaching 40 years old seemed like a mythical accomplishment. Something that was theoretically possible, but not likely to happen— like growing up to marry Indiana Jones or becoming best friends with DJ Tanner. While cool possibilities, it definitely was not in the cards for me.

In all honesty, the arrival of the COVID pandemic did not bode well for my chances to reach this milestone. I watched disabled and high-risk folks here, and around the world, lose battles with the virus. Yet, at the same time, I saw many doubt the risks. I heard jokes about masks, vaccines and other protective measures. Weirdly, I can understand this. After all, it’s easier to believe you’re immune from it all when you don’t look like me. It’s easier to push it all aside when you think you’re not one of those “pre-conditioned people.”

Coming into my 40th birthday during this pandemic was a surreal experience. For two years, each day has been difficult— for ALL of us. Yet, personally, I have keenly felt that each day has been a gift, too. Even though we still have a long way to go, each day I have survived has been a small victory.

Thus, when the clock ticked to midnight on my 40th birthday, I stared out into the darkness of my bedroom—contemplating how far I had come. And, then, I whispered:

“Watch out, Indiana Jones… I’m coming for you.”

Messy Drawers, Cassette Tapes & Vladimir Putin

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There’s no right or wrong time to clean out a messy drawer, or that one cabinet that hasn’t been touched since audio cassette tapes were still a thing that people actually used. Don’t mistake this as a diss on cassettes— nothing could be further than the truth. I used to love to rock out to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album on my mint green boom box. In fact, I eventually wore the cassette tape out and had to use some of my piggy bank money to buy a fresh copy at the mall. This was a time when you had to actually drive to the store to buy music— so it was a serious commitment. You had to really want something if you were willing to make your mom drive you 40 minutes to the Vintage Faire Mall to get it. After all, in the 1980’s, the only thing you could download from a Cloud was some rain.

Cleaning out an old drawer or shelf can be a therapeutic experience. I know I always feel better, lighter, and calmer when I can de-clutter something. That’s a fact. Unloading possessions is deeply cathartic. While I know that some people get the same feeling from yoga and meditation, I suspect Vladimir Putin gets a similar zing of excitement when he invades Ukraine and polishes his knife collection.

Sorting through old stuff can yield surprising results, too. Once I found a $20 bill in a nylon fanny pack at the bottom of my dresser. Remember fanny packs? Yeah, I wish I didn’t, either. Aside from being horrified that I actually wore the damn thing, I instantly felt like I had won a prize by discovering the twenty bucks inside. It didn’t seem to matter that it was actually my own money, I was still a Powerball winner in my mind.

A few days ago, I cleaned out an old drawer in my bathroom. Inside, next to a crusty bottle of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, and in front of a curling iron that hadn’t been used in over a decade, I found a little box. Inside? My high school class ring! I hadn’t seen the ring in years, in fact, I had forgotten all about it. But, alas, here it was in my hand, smelling slightly of old talc, yet none the worse for wear. It was like finding a $20 bill, only way better. Vladimir Putin probably gets the same feeling when he imprisons dissidents and runs around the Kremlin naked.

So, the moral of the story is this: don’t wait to clean out that one messy drawer in your house. While you may only find old buttons, some matchbooks, and a few dried-up pens, there’s a chance you could discover something awesome. Like a $20 bill, your high school class ring, or— if you’re Vladimir Putin—your secret stash of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

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If only everyone could be so lucky.

A Breath of Fresh Air

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For a person with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), like me, respiratory care is a key component to our well-being. The muscles closest to our spines are most effected— while the severity of muscle weakness lessens the further you move out to the tips of the extremities. Therefore, to say that the muscles that control my respiratory system are not great would be a vast understatement. It would be like saying that King Henry VIII only had a slight problem not killing his wives.

You know the satisfaction you get from hocking a really big loogie? Yeah, that’s not so easy for someone with SMA. I would love to easily hock a loogie when the occasion warrants. It’s definitely on my all-time wish list of things to do— which includes marrying George Clooney and traveling back in time to buy stock in Apple when they were still making computers in Steve Jobs’ crappy garage.

As a result of my muscle weakness, I also have scoliosis— which further impairs my respiratory function. In fact, my right lung is so squished that it really doesn’t do much. Despite that, I’m quite surprisingly fond of it anyway. It’s decorative and ornamental— like Melania Trump.

Therefore, keeping colds, viruses and flus at bay are essential. A minor cold that would just make you snuffly for a few days can knock me out for a week or two. And, the specter of pneumonia is always hovering over my shoulder— waiting, watching and listening. Just like Vladimir Putin.

Like many with SMA, I use a BiPAP respirator machine at night while I sleep. While I wear a mask similar to those with sleep apnea, this machine instead ebbs and flows with the rhythm of my breathing— like the tides of the ocean or a politician’s approval rating.

However, this machine is not as soothing as it sounds. It bears no resemblance to the nature-sound CDs that they used to sell at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $9.99. It took me over a year to get used to this damn thing. You know a hurricane? Imagine that in your face while you are trying to sleep. For nearly a year, I vacillated between wanting to throw in the towel and return the BiPAP to the doctor… to getting my dad to run over the f$&@ing machine with a John Deere tractor.

Along with my respiratory gadgets, like my BiPAP, I have an assortment of techniques that I’ve developed over the years to prevent infections:

  • STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ANYONE I THINK MAY POTENTIALLY BE SICK. This policy is effective, but it causes me to turn into a veritable hermit from November to March… I can make Howard Hughes seem like a contender for Miss Congeniality.
  • IF I MUST BE AROUND SOMEONE SICK, I FORCE THEM TO WASH THEIR HANDS SO OFTEN THAT THE SKIN ON THEIR PALMS SHRIVELS UP AND FALLS OFF. I am not kidding about this. Sometimes I even make them wear a mask. While this may seem excessive, if you were me, you’d do the same. All’s fair in love, war, and microbes.
  • I GARGLE, CHEW AND DRINK EVERY FOLKLORIC REMEDY I CAN FIND ONLINE. Listerine mouthwash gargle? Yes. Apple cider vinegar? Duh, of course. Chew raw garlic cloves until your mouth gets blistered? Definitely. And do these work? I am not certain, but my anxiety likes to think they do.

A few days ago, I headed back to Stanford to see the pulmonary specialist and to finish up the loose ends of my Spinraza evaluation. While there, I saw a kiosk at the entrance of the neuroscience building. It had an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser, tissues, and masks— all in one display case. It was amazing. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning— if that kid was a raging hypochondriac. Since I couldn’t feasibly steal the whole display, like I wanted to do, I took a photo by it instead…

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Here’s to a cootie-free Spring!