iPod, therefore, I am

My ear buds were dying.

I was midway through my morning commute when the left speaker cut out. I jiggled the wire and it came back for a few minutes, but by the time I got to work I was down to one channel again. I’d have to pick up a new pair on my lunch break. Going without my iPod for the commute home was not an option.

Safe inside her sound bubble.

I’m a Johnny Come Really Lately when it comes to digital music. I didn’t own an iPod until last year, but now that I have one I’m addicted to it. In fact, I’d say my iPod has not only reawakened my musical spirit, it has quietly changed my life in some rather profound ways.

The Tune-less Years

I’ve always been a music lover (as well as a knock-around musician) but somewhere around the turn of the millennium the music all but stopped for me. My band had dissolved, and life tossed other priorities my way—a home renovation, a marriage, and then kids. Once kids were on the scene, my main source of musical entertainment was Baby Einstein and Sesame Street. If we wanted to rock hard we’d put on The Wiggles live album or Wake Up Jeff.

Yeah, I had a cabinet filled with hundreds of CDs but when was I going to listen to them? In the middle of night when the kids were asleep? During the ten-minute ride from my house to the bus stop?

I resisted the iPod craze for a long time. I’d never been a “Walkman guy,” either the cassette tape or CD versions, and the whole iPod/MP3 player thing just seemed like an extension of that. Lack of space finally nudged me into the digital age; I needed to clear out my CD cabinet to make room for computer equipment. So I started the long process of importing my CD collection into iTunes and I picked up a used iPod shuffle on eBay.

Love at First Listen

I was immediately hooked. For starters I could load 17 hours of music onto a device the size of a matchbook. And the sound was awesome. Nothing beats listening to music on headphones, which block out all ambient sound and allow you to hear every nuance of the music. I’m sure music purists will disagree, but a good pair of “ear buds” put music inside your head in a way that standard headphones never can (especially not those cheesy, foam-eared, Walkman-style headphones.) When was the last time I listened to music on headphones? In college? High school?

I didn’t realize how much I missed listening to music – not watching music videos, but listening to music— until I got an iPod. It was like a cool drink on a hot summer day. It was more than merely refreshing. It was like getting something back that was crucial to my well being, like a vitamin that had been missing from my diet.

My iPod quickly transformed my dreary New York City commute into an almost enjoyable experience. If it’s a rainy day and the subway platforms are dank and crowded you’re going to need some Metallica or Tool to make it through. Nothing beats checking out the celestial paintings on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal while listening to Radiohead. The other day James Taylor accompanied me on my morning bus ride. Hey, it’s good to know that I’ve got a friend.

made for ipod
I was made for iPoding you, baby. You were made for iPoding me.

I’ve upgraded to a bigger iPod and now I’ve got my entire music collection on there. Rock, jazz, classical – there’s something for any mood. And that’s the beauty of the iPod – it allows you to select a soundtrack for the movie that’s your life. It used to stress me out moving with a herd through buses and subways and crowded city streets. But it’s kind of fun now that I’m in my own private “sound bubble.” Music has a way of transporting you to different times and places and my iPod allows me to be in Times Square, present day, and Europe ’72 with the Grateful Dead simultaneously. Groovy, man.

Healing Harmonies

I find myself walking more since I got my iPod, and in the last six months I’ve dropped 30 pounds and saved a couple of bucks on subway fare. And I’ve started writing and recording music again for the first time in years. It’s like a reawakening of my music appreciation has stirred my creative juices as well.  Thanks, iPod!

Of course, the isolating effect of the iPod is also its greatest drawback. People already have a hard enough time connecting with one another in modern society; we don’t need another gadget that further detaches us. And, yes, you shouldn’t wear one while driving, or in class, and you shouldn’t play it too loud, blah, blah, blah. Anything can be abused. But if you’ve ever sat next to a crying baby at an airport or next to a loud-mouthed cell phone user on a bus, then you already know that a digital music player can transform an otherwise unpleasant or mundane experience into something quite magical.

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reprinted from WAYNE Today, September 2008

A Dignified Death For Man And Man’s Best Friend

Our dog Barnabus was dying.

Miss you, Barnabus. You’re a good boy.

My wife and I both knew it, though we didn’t want to say it aloud. We’d been involved with animal rescue for many years, and we knew what the final stages of a pet’s life looked like: the loss of appetite, the incontinence, the restless wandering. No matter how Barney stood, lay, or sat, he couldn’t seem to get comfortable.

Barney was the fifth dog we needed to put to sleep. My wife and I aren’t serial killers…we often adopt elderly dogs and they sometimes don’t remain in our family as long as we’d like them to. Euthanizing a pet doesn’t get easier the more you do it, but it gets easier to recognize when the end is near. We waited too long three of the four times we needed to do this before. We knew our pets were sick and suffering, but we didn’t want to say goodbye.

From Homeless To Our House

Barney was with us for nine years. We adopted him from the Jersey City animal shelter when our son was only three months old. We saw a beagle on the Jersey City shelter’s web site that we wanted to adopt. But when we got to the shelter, we found the beagle had already been euthanized. We asked who was next to go, and were directed to a skin-and-bones shepherd mix crammed in a tiny cage.

“He’s been here ten days. His time is up.”

A few minutes later Barney was riding in the backseat of our Geo Prism, on his way to a new home. For the next nine years, he was one of the most faithful, most loyal, most loving dogs we ever lived with. He was gentle with our kids, protective of our home, and tolerant of the other dogs that came to visit (and stay!) It didn’t take Barney long to learn that this was his home, too, his kids, his family.

We never knew Barney’s exact age. He was at least three or four years old when we adopted him. The last few years he was on arthritis medicine. He struggled so much getting up and down the steps to the back yard the last two winters, I wasn’t sure he’d make it to spring. But he did.

Except this spring Barney started having intense seizures. He had several over the course of a week, but then they stopped for more than a month. We hoped we were in the clear, but then they started again, worse than ever. We seemed to lose a little bit of Barney with each seizure – it took him longer to regain his composure after an attack, and he remained disoriented and confused after his last serious seizure.

Goodbye, Barney … Goodbye, Jack … 

We decided to put Barney to sleep on June 3, the same day that Dr. Jack Kevorkian died. The irony was not lost on my wife and I.

Kevorkian, aka “Dr Death”, pioneered the right to die for terminally ill humans. He is reported to have helped more than 130 patients take their own lives, and is the inventor of the Thanatron (Death Machine) device, which can kill a patient by injecting a mix of chemicals in to the bloodstream, and the Merictron (Mery Machine) which causes death through inhalation of carbon monoxide.

Dying to read this!

A strong advocate of “right-to-die” legislation, Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for helping a late-stage ALS patient take his own life. Kevorkian was paroled in 2007, and continued to be an advocate for patient’s rights until his death.

Barney brought joy and love into our family for nearly a decade. The last loving gift I could grant him was to end his suffering, and let him go gently into that good night. How sad that I could give this gift of peace to my dog, but not my father when he was suffering from the final stages of cancer 15 years ago.

Kevorkian was famously quoted as saying “dying is not a crime.” Maybe forcing a dying person to live in pain and suffering should be. If so, our government would be guilty a million times over.

This Is The End, Beautiful Friend

Barney had another seizure in the waiting room of the vet’s office. The doctor helped me carry him into the examining room, and gave Barney a shot of valium to stop the seizure. We discussed it for a few minutes, but the vet didn’t disagree with my decision. Clusters of seizures, coupled with Barney’s other behavioral changes, pointed to a probable brain tumor. The doctor put another needle into Barney’s arm, and before he had even finished injecting all of the pink fluid, Barney was gone, resting in peace.

I walked out to the waiting room a few minutes later carrying Barney’s collar and leash. A girl waiting with her cat took one look at me and started crying. I felt strangely apologetic. I’m sorry my dying dog bummed everybody out. He didn’t mean it. He was a good dog – a great dog — and this was really the best option, an option that should be available for man and beast alike.

Good night, Dr. Kevorkian. Thanks for teaching us all about dying with dignity.

Good night, Barnabus. Thank you for teaching me how to live with grace and appreciation.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, July 2011

My Wife’s Stroke or Why This Blog Sucks

Why does this blog suck so badly?

Well, it’s not updated often enough, for starters. Why? Because I’ve been busy.

Don’t believe me, read on. It’s been a crazy year. Then Google me, or look for my ebooks on Smashwords or Amazon — I’ve got a couple of new ebooks coming out, and more planned. Told you I’ve been busy!

Bad Luck, Invisible Dangers, and Obvious Miracles

reprinted courtesy of Wayne TODAY, March 2011

stroke graphic
This is your brain having a stroke. This would be funnier if it didn’t happen to my wife in February 2011.

Talk to anyone who has been in a serious car accident, or survived some other life-threatening situation, and they’ll usually finish their harrowing tale with the phrase, “It’s a miracle!”

I always doubted this sentiment. How can such bad luck be seen as a miracle? Is it miraculous your luck wasn’t worse?

But I look at miracles differently now.

Last month my wife had a stroke. It wasn’t a tiny TIA (transient ischemic attack) either. One neurologist called it “a big hit on the right side,” a major CVA (cerebrovascular accident). If you looked at her MRI, you’d expect her to have paralysis, lost of speech, and brain function.

But she doesn’t. Laura’s lost some sensation on her left side, and dexterity in her left hand, but her mind and speech seem unaffected. She’ s not “fine,” as she likes to remind me, and she’s got a lot of difficult therapy ahead of her. But relative to the size of her stroke, her condition is, well…miraculous.

Our network of friends immediately stepped up and pitched in following my wife’s stroke, and we’ve never felt more grateful for their support.

Terror Time

“You scared the hell out of everybody,” I told her. “You’ve got everyone thinking about their own mortality. Everybody wants to know how this could happen to fairly healthy woman in her forties.”

But the cause of my wife’s stroke remains a mystery. Tests show no heart irregularities or blockages in her cerebrovascular system.

It was just one of those things. Bad luck, with a miracle on the side.

I was surprised by how deeply news of my wife’s stroke affected everyone, especially my friend Ross, who really only knows my wife casually. I had to repeatedly reassure Ross that Laura would be okay, and was expected to make a full recovery. Maybe it was the sudden-ness of it that caught Ross off guard.

But maybe it was something else.

Two weeks after my wife’s stroke, Ross had a massive heart attack. He coded on the table, but was revived. He’s also expected to make a full recovery.

Another miracle, like being helpless in the jaws of a shark that spits you out instead of eating you. You’re left feeling both attacked and blessed.

Life, Frail and Delicate

We build our lives around people and places, careers and hobbies, ideals and attitude. But no matter how simple or complex we make them, our lives are still glass structures built on sand, a house of cards in windstorm. Life is a fragile, delicate thing, which is exactly what makes it so precious.

Plan, structure, and organize your life all you want (you should — like any mechanism, you have to constantly tinker with life in order to keep it running smoothly) but understand that life can change in an instant. Look at northern Japan, where people are struggling to put their lives back together in the wake of an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear crisis.

Some dangers, the worst ones, are invisible and impossible to predict: blood clots, malignant cell growths, shifting tectonic plates deep beneath the earth. All you can do is plan, prepare, and live each day to the fullest.

And be aware of — and grateful for – the miracles you catch along the way.

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