Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dog Daze

The other day, after making sure I was sitting, Jeanette announced that she was ready to start looking for a dog. As fate would have it, I uncharacteristically became the voice of reason, asking her to consider the economic side of the proposition. She said she understood and that she was concerned about Jackson’s anger issues and that she thought a dog might serve to moderate that. I agreed, all the while suppressing the urge to jump for joy. I think rescuing a puppy could be just what this family needs right now.

Dogs were a big part of my life as a boy. When we lived on Whitewood Road, a beautiful stray appeared one day. He was tan and white with a nose the color of liverwurst. My mother, in her literary brilliance, named the dog “Tandog,” as original a dog’s name as I’ve heard to this day.

“Tanny,” as we called him (a little confusing at times, as I was known as Danny then) was a career stray. He allowed us to think of him as our dog for a couple of years, before exiting from our lives just as quickly as he’d entered it. I don’t remember much about him, except that he was quiet and had a calm demeanor. If there’s an existing photo of him anywhere in this world, I don’t know where it is. But I’ve got him in my memory, his image as clear as day.

Then there was Bo Bo, pictured here. We answered an ad in the local paper, the Reporter Dispatch, which read “Lovable Puppy.” His owner, a pretty woman, as I recall, was going away to college, or a new job, where they didn’t allow dogs. Mike and I played with him in their yard, and it didn’t take long for us to make our decision.

He wasn’t a “puppy” in the most literal sense. He was probably about a year old – fully grown and housebroken. He was a long-haired mongrel, and when people asked what breed he was, my father called him a “dogfood commercial mutt,” which was pretty accurate. He was, supposedly, a mix of schnauzer and Old English sheepdog.

The day he came home with us, he sniffed around our home nervously, every once in a while looking out the window, as if wondering where he was. It took him a day or two to settle in, and then he became the fifth member of our family.

A few weeks later the young woman who’d owned Bo contacted us to let us know her plans to move had fallen through. I was too young to understand the emotional complexities of the situation, but my parents had her over to “visit” Bo. As the story goes, she watched him running and playing with Mike and me in the back yard and made the decision that Bo would be happier with us. I have a dim recollection of her sitting on our back porch crying and being consoled by my parents. Then she left, and I never saw her again.

Bo was not always perfectly “lovable” as the girl’s ad had claimed. He was overly aggressive at times, antagonizing the other dogs on our street. There was Smokey on one side, a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound who belonged to my best friend Miki. On the other there was Deero, a Dalmatian who simply enraged our dog. He even jumped through a plate-glass window once.

But he was also quite sweet and gentle at times. He was with us from the time I was about six until my freshman year in college in 1981. Thankfully, I was spared his passing, but it was hard on my brother, who was especially attached to our dog.

We’re hoping to choose a dog from our local animal shelter, probably around the third week in August, when we return from our weekend in San Antonio. Then our lives will change forever, and for the better.

Space Exploration, in Miniature

When I was a boy, I was something of a “hobbyist,” you could say. I enjoyed model-making, though I always struggled with the more intricate details, like applying the glue in a way that didn’t drip on the model itself, or applying decals. Painting was a challenge. Sometimes Miki, my nextdoor neighbor and BFF, would get the same models I had, and the comparison was embarrassing. He had a steady hand; no surprise that he ended up a research scientist; as I picture it, he is carefully injecting samples into test tubes, before placing them in a centrifuge. (Okay, I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I watch a lot of CSI, so I figure that counts for something.) If you look at the things I’ve super-glued around my home – a drawer front in the kitchen, or the handle of a plastic cup measure, you’ll see I haven’t changed much – they’re a little off-line, and you can see where the glue dripped and then dried.

But hey, the drawer works, and the cup measure has a handle, so leave me alone about the drips, okay?

One of my favorite hobbies is one I hadn’t thought of in years and years, until the other day, when Diego came home from camp. It has been a wonderful camp – both fun and educational. They have performed dances and skits, and also done a good deal of science, in a fun, hands-on program called “Mad Science.” In his hand, Diego had a cardboard rocket. I immediately flashed back to my days as a collector of Estes rockets. Miki and I were in it together, and we would go with my father or his to the Westchester Community College campus, where we would set up our launch pads. The thrill was short lived, as the little “engines” were ignited, the rockets flew up, the parachutes deployed, and they came floating back down.

The king of all Estes rockets was the Saturn V. (Miki and I weren’t aware of Roman numerals back then, so we called it the Saturn “Vee.”) Miki was the first to have one, and I remember when it went up it was a big moment for us.

I told Diego about Estes, and now, of course, he wants to get one. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m looking forward to getting into hobbies with my boys. It will be interesting to see how Diego and Jackson experience rocketry. For Miki and me it was very real; we can both remember watching rocket and shuttle launches on TV, so we were mimicking what was really happening in the world.

We’re now in a post-exploration phase, with the shuttle program closing down earlier this month. I’m sure there will come a time when we get excited about the exploration of space again, but for now it’s an abstraction. Still, I see the way Diego’s eyes light up with scientific curiosity, and I plan on stoking that fire. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be the first man to set foot on Mars.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dreaming of Rain

Last night I dreamt of rain. It pounded down and I was walking around the house closing windows and checking doors. The wind blew hard but there was a sense of safety. The house would keep the elements out.

Along with the sense of safety came one of relief. We’re living with an ongoing drought here in Central Texas, and last night, before turning in, as the boys were taking a bath, I took the opportunity to sit in my wicker chaise in the back yard and drink a beer. It was still about ninety degrees and the only breeze came from my outdoor ceiling fans on the back patio. Reclining, I surveyed my tiny realm; the grass looked sad and brown, and the clouds welled up like a bad actor, trying to make himself cry.

When I was a child in elementary school in the northern suburbs of New York City, there were mornings when I woke to flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. On those mornings, my mother – a late sleeper, normally – would pry herself out of bed so that she could drive us to the bus stop on Knollwood Road at the end of our street. We would sit there in the back seat – no seat belts back then, let alone child seats – chattering about whatever the topic would have been back in those days (Bugs Bunny, Underdog, Jaws) and listening to the rain’s uneven percussion on the roof of our Gran Torino wagon. Sometimes my best friend Miki (my “Brother From Another Mother,” in today’s parlance) would join us, and we’d wait for that cheddar-yellow Bluebird bus (number 4, I think it was) to pull up before making the mad, soaking dash to its open door, a quick goodbye to Mom thrown over the shoulder as I started my sprint. Thinking back on it now, missing her as much as I do, I wish I’d lingered longer.

Here in the waking world of the present, there has been, predictably, no rain, despite the imminent arrival of Hurricane Don on the Texas Gulf Coast. Mark Murray, the local weather guy who contributes to KGSR said yesterday we were unlikely to feel Don’s effect here in our scorching, sun-drenched corner of the world.

Thus, my dreams of rain.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Fine Bit of Coaching at an Unexpected Moment

I’d been hearing about it all week. Coaching. Who can deny it’s a key component to leadership? When I was a high school assistant principal back in 2007 – 2008, there was a married couple, Rob and Sheila, who had been co-directors of the original Manhattan Lab School. I’m sure they were paid a king’s ransom to come in and “coach” Marc, the principal. He made a name for himself in the first four years of that school’s existence, and I was happy to be hired as his assistant.

In that role, I met with Sheila once every couple of weeks. To be honest, I don’t remember much about our visits, except that they happened in the overly-ornate library, where we sat in heavy wooden chairs that felt like they’d been there for decades, surrounded by gorgeous WPA murals from the 1930’s. The other details that I remember about that library are that it had virtually no books in it and that it served as a “rubber room” site for teachers who had been suspended from their classrooms. They sat reading newspapers, chatting and napping at the same back table every day. One of them was fond of watching videos of classical music concerts on a portable video cart.

I do recall that I enjoyed Sheila as a person; she was kind of a tough-but-sweet, Jewish mother type. Ruth Gordon comes to mind. I don’t know how many of the “best practices” mentioned by my supervisor in several workshops during which I’ve assisted her over these past few days Sheila really used. She had a homespun way of giving advice. I don’t remember a lot of active listening or reflective questions coming from her, which is not to say they didn’t.

I did have the good fortune to work closely with Michele Tissiere of Educators for Social Responsibility during my year and a half as Austin High School’s School Improvement Facilitator. She was an expert coach, and I enjoyed teasing her about her fluency in cognitive coaching. For example, I’d interrupt her when she would tell me she “had a wondering.” “No you don’t, Michele,” I’d say, “you wonder about something.”

Then she would screw up her face and give me a little punch on the arm, call me “goofy” and tell me I reminded her of her little brother before returning to the topic at hand. We developed an excellent working relationship and accomplished a great deal, and I’ll always be grateful to Michele for all I learned from her.

Since then, however, I haven’t received much coaching, although I work with many excellent ones. I should say I hadn’t received any until yesterday, during lunch, when I happened to sit next to Melonie Hammons, a colleague who is now moving into becoming a Professional Service Provider helping troubled schools. We sat having lunch at the Westin Hotel, and we began discussing my aspirations. I confessed to not being inspired by the prospect of becoming a school principal. When she asked me what it was that did inspire me, I answered that it was writing. After asking me what sort of writing I did, she asked another question.

“What short story are you writing now?” she asked. I think she knew what my answer would be.

“Well, I’m not writing one now,” I replied.

“When do you plan on starting?” she asked. “What will it take to get you started?”

I thought it was a brilliant question, and maybe the best example of a “coaching” question I’d heard at the conference so far.

Before turning our attention to our meals, Melonie asked me one final question, knowing, I think, in her coach’s wisdom, that it would resonate with me, as it does now.

“Do you think maybe now is as good a time as any to get started?”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In the Land of the Texas Educonference

Every so often, for the past oh I'd say 20 years or so, I find myself as I am now -- in a nice hotel, wearing a tag with my name and affiliation on it, along with a pretty logo of whatever organization is throwing the shindig in question. This time, it's the PSP Network Summer Institute, and I have a nifty green ribbon at the bottom of my name tag, which reads "STAFF" in embossed gold lettering, because I am one of the people running the conference.

This afternoon, during a break in the action, I was watching some of our PSP's (Professional Service Providers), most of whom are quite, um, "seasoned," I guess is a nice word for it. They have been campus principals or central office-level administrators, and are now coming out of retirement to offer their service to campuses and districts who are struggling to stay afloat. I watch their reunions, as they hug and slap backs and give hearty handshakes and guffaws back and forth in front of the Starbucks coffee stand the wait staff has put out for them, the cups all stacked neatly in upside-down towers. For a moment, their friendship makes me sad, as I think back to the conferences in New York, and elsewhere, before I made the move out here to Texas, and how I'd have similar back-slapping reunions with people in carpeted hotel lobbies, all of us wearing our names on lanyards.

I'm slowly making my name here in Texas, but I'm still very much an unknown commodity. I worked in the New York school system, as a teacher, then a school leader, then a school change agent for enough years to get my name out there to some pretty important mucky-mucks. I had a level of respect in that world that I haven't quite attained here yet. As Willie Loman said in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, "It's important to be well liked." I think I've achieved that much here in Texas, and probably on more of a statewide level than I ever did in New York. But being "well liked" is not good enough. I'm working toward something deeper, and it may just take some more time to attain it here, on this relatively new stage.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finally...Feeling Like a Person Again!

What a relief it was yesterday to enjoy a kind of return to normalcy. I don’t know whether I’m out of the woods yet in terms of the health issue I’m dealing with, but just to be able to function for a full work day, to be able to interact with my colleagues, was something I’d been unable to do for over a week.

Actually, it’s not accurate to call it a “full” work day, as it ended early with yet another doctor visit. In true Matrix fashion, the ENT doc extracted the horrifically long “spacers” that had been in my nasal passages for a week. I got through it, and here’s hoping the appointment was the end of a chapter.

There are still a few more steps, though, until I reach what I would call “normalcy,” however. Or “full” normalcy, I guess. (Who am I kidding? I will never be normal.) One thing I’ve been missing this week is exercise. I miss my morning bike ride. Yeah, I know: as “exercise” it’s pretty low-key, pretty old-mannish, like the gray-haired guys in gray sweat suits who “speed walk” around our subdivision. I do miss the early-morning air. Mostly, though, I miss my private time with my bad donut-shop coffee and my journal. I like my morning routine. It is unique, creative and moderately productive. It makes me feel good about myself. If I continue to improve, I’ll return to it on Monday.

Don’t get me wrong. I know very well that compared to some of the surgeries you hear about, what I went through with my sinus issue last week was minor, to put it mildly. I consider myself lucky for my relative good health and now, more than ever, I wish to maintain it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

And Speaking of That Familiar Face...

I couldn’t let this date, July 21, 2011 go by without recalling the picture you see here. It was taken nine years ago on this date, when Jeanette Reyes and I gathered with friends and family to celebrate our vows at the Picnic House, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Technically/legally, we’d already been married for nearly seven months, having done so before the Justice of the Peace at the Bronx Courthouse on Jeanette’s birthday, January 25, 2002. We think of the July date as our “real” anniversary, because that was when we were able to have the party, to really enjoy the moment, with dancing, toasts, catered Latin food, coconut cake from one of our favorite local restaurants, and more dancing.

A lot of pictures were taken that day – especially by my brother-in-law, who is the family shutter-bug. The one here is my favorite. It may not be the most perfect, from a composition standpoint, and we have pictures in which we both look better.

But I just love what it captures. The two of us are sharing a dance, a private moment, as if we’re wondering together what the future will hold. We had no idea, of course. We didn’t know we’d have our first son just less than ten months later, and our second two years after that. We had no clue we’d pick up and move nearly two thousand miles away to Austin, Texas in another four.

Life has been a series of welcome surprises – one big adventure – since that day, pictured here, back in 2002.

Happy anniversary, Jenny. I wonder where we’ll be in another nine years, on July 21, 2020.

To be continued….

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Familiar Face Through the Fog of Anesthesia

I’ve had three operations in my adult life, all of them involving general anesthesia, which I find terrifying. I’m someone who doesn’t fall asleep easily, and once I do, I don’t sleep very soundly, so to lose consciousness in so complete a way is like losing time. It’s what I imagine dying might be like, under the best of circumstances, I suppose.

In all three of those instances, I have felt like a helpless child (again, one could imagine death in this way) – afraid, alone and at the mercy of the team of professionals who are given the task of treating me. And in all three of those instances, first in 2004, then in 2006, and just last Thursday, I came out of the deep, death-like sleep of anesthesia to see the face of Jeanette Reyes, my partner. Her fingers have soothed me out of the confusion with their familiar touch. Jeanette’s hand has been the one to extend the straw to my lips so that I could take that first restorative sip of cool water, inviting me back to the world of the living.

Though these words may embarrass you, Jenny, I want to thank you. Thank you for always being there to light up the darkness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Was the Barcelos Rooster My Father's "Spirit Animal"?

I’m surprised I never made the connection between the profound identification I feel with the gecko, my “spirit animal” as I half-jokingly call it, and my father’s fascination with o galo de Barcelos (the rooster of Barcelos, a Portuguese icon). I’ve known others with strong animal identifications – my late stepmother Judy collected elephant statues and figurines, my friends the Leons in Vermont have their home decorated with a tortoise symbol, and Austin High School math teacher Elvie Swail surrounds, and adorns, herself with frogs of all kinds.

I’m sure we all have our own, very personal reasons for choosing our various creatures. For me, the gecko is an animal I associate with the innocence of my childhood, when I routinely found salamanders resting under the rocks in my backyard. These same lizards became a comfort to me during my restorative summer after my divorce in 1994 in Big Indian, New York.

Now, years later, my life having landed in a much happier place, and with my spirit animal permanently tattooed on my right shoulder nearly ten years ago, during my honeymoon in Montreal (I’m referring to the marriage that took, obviously) I find myself wondering about the Barcelos Rooster. It was an image we grew up with. My father had a collection of maybe eight of them or so, along with a couple of roosters from other cultures, as well.

I don’t recall my father’s reasons for collecting the porcelain statues. Of course, the significance of Portugal is at the core of my father’s identity, it being the first country – before the United States – to give him and his family refuge from the Nazis. The Fuchses resided in Lisbon where Hanno became skilled in both English and soccer, attending a British school with his brother Geoffrey. The place made a lasting impression on him, and I’m sure his brightly-colored galos brought back fond memories of the Portugal of his past, in the late 1930’s.

My second tattoo, of the running fox, was a tribute to my father and our family name. It occurs to me that the Barcelos rooster might make another fitting tribute, while staying within the animal motif of my first two tattoos. I’ll do some asking around to find out about artists that my Austin-area friends might recommend. It appears to be time for tattoo number three.

Post-script: Interestingly (and to add an element of mystery to this post), I have no idea where my father's roosters are today. The search is on . . .

Friday, July 15, 2011

Medical Leave

The Navel Gazer will be offline until Monday, 7/18/2011.

Thanks for your kind wishes. The procedure went without a hitch, and I'm recovering nicely at home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Extraordinary Summer

Quite a bit of baseball these days. Last night the National League defeated the American League 5 – 1 in the All-Star Game, which still makes me happy, even after years of confusingly shifting allegiances. Continuing on the theme, we’ll be cashing in on Jackson’s perfect attendance during the final grading period this past school year by going this evening to watch the Round Rock Express, our local Triple-A affiliate, and farm team of the Texas Rangers. It’s going to be hotter than hell the first few innings, so I’ll seek shade until it cools down.

Those minor league games aren’t really about baseball anyway, at least not when you go with kids. They’re more about the food (kids eat free tonight – yay!) and the rock climbing wall, which Diego and Jackson like to scale again and again and again.

The boldest baseball headline – maybe the boldest sports headline came this past Saturday, when Derek Jeter finally reached the milestone he’s been approaching all year – 3,000 hits. He takes his place in history, not only as the 26th man ever to achieve the feat, but also as only the second ever to do it with a homerun (Wade Boggs being the other) and, surprisingly, I thought, the only Yankee ever to reach 3,000. I don’t think there’s been much doubt he’ll reach the Hall of Fame – I think we’ve known this for a few years now. With this accomplishment Jeter can start to picture his number 2 posted up there in Yankee Stadium with all the other single-digit greats of the past, like Mantle (7), Berra (9), DiMaggio (5), Ruth (3) and Gehrig (4), none of whom accomplished what he has.

I feel a little bit about Derek Jeter the way I do about U2. It’s a bit different, in that I was brought up by a rabid Yankee-hating Brooklyn Dodger fan. During my brief rebellion in the mid-1990’s, I watched Jeter, then a baby-faced rookie, famous for his good manners and near perfect swing, quietly take on his role as captain of a constantly rotating band of baseball superstars. He did it with unquestionable class and finesse. Like the Irish rock and roll band, his success grew and grew; U2 became a supergroup, he became a superstar. And I was there from the beginning for both.

3,000 hits is a remarkable milestone; anyone who knows anything about baseball acknowledges that. Doing it in New York City, where the sports chatter never stops, and they love to report on who you’re dating, makes it even more impressive. Jeter has spent his entire career in Yankee pinstripes, and I’d be surprised if he retires wearing anything else. He’s famous for saying it’s the only team he’s ever wanted to play for.

In my mind, his even greater accomplishment was converting me – however briefly – into (sorry, Dad) a Yankee fan.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Wood Nymph

I wonder if anyone else would remember the eerie music that came wafting over the breeze for a few summer nights, years ago, in the Hartford Woods. It’s difficult, through the haze of memory, to ascertain what actually happened back then. From my adult perspective I am tempted to explain it away, much as I’m sure my parents must have done, when I surely came complaining of being frightened and unable to sleep. It was probably just some teenagers camping out in the woods, playing their radio by the fireside.

As a child of nine or ten, however, I was terrified by the mysterious night music. The woods at night were like a dark sea, the treetops moving, communicating in the breeze, nocturnal animals communing and commuting like fish under the water’s surface. The chirping of the crickets was a constant undercurrent on summer nights, providing a familiar lullaby. The curious music was an interruption of the night’s usual soothing song. In my horror film-addled mind I heard the singing of a wood nymph. I pictured a white gown blowing in the night’s breezes. She may very well have been beautiful, but her intention was pure evil. She existed to collect up the souls of children, like me, who dared to stray too far from their mothers’ gaze.

In the light of day, when my fear of the woods subsided, giving way to my boyhood explorer’s heart, I blazed the trails with abandon, at times looking for evidence to verify the other side of the story – smoldering embers and used condoms that would support the camping teenagers theory. But I found neither.

A subdivision was built in the Hartford Woods years after we moved away, and it changed the landscape somewhat. However for those children now living on Hartford Lane, where I grew up, the back woods still make up a large part of their world, I’m sure. I wonder if any of them have heard the Wood Nymph singing her songs, their strains cutting through the darkness, carried by the breeze of a muggy summer night.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I can count the number of surgeries I've had in my lifetime on one hand. I'm not particularly phobic about it, but I do have a healthy amount of nervousness going into this Thursday's sinus procedure.

The thing I like least about surgery is the anesthesia. I don't like the loss of control, and I don't like the feeling of coming out of the cloudy sleep afterwards. More than anything else, though, it's the vulnerability I dislike.

I just have to keep telling myself that this will mean relief -- relief from the daily headaches that have become such a depressing distraction. It's been months now, and I'm almost at the point where I can't remember what it's like not to have a headache at ten in the morning.

So wish me luck for Thursday, and do me a favor, will you? Keep your surgery horror stories to yourself. I really don't need to hear them right now. (I don't know what it is with people in this regard. It's like when Jeanette was pregnant and women felt compelled to tell her their birth stories from hell.)

Just think good thoughts on Thursday at 11:00 a.m., Central Standard Time. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Danger in the Poet Game

I've lost track of my mistakes,/like birds they fly around/and darken half of my skies./
To all of those I've hurt -/I pray you'll forgive me./I to you will freely do the same./
so many things I didn't see,/with my eyes turned inside,/playing the poet game.

-- Greg Brown

Riding my bike this morning, I heard these words in my headphones, as I have many, many times before. For some reason, they hit me harder this morning than they have in the past. Maybe it’s because of a recent post, in which I transcribed a poem by my mother, who definitely taught me “the poet game.”

This year has been full of introspection for me, with these daily blogposts and journal entries. I tell myself that I do it in the name of being more present in this life, so that I can be a better person/husband/father/brother/friend.

But what if, as Greg Brown suggests in his song, by looking inward I’m missing something? I appreciate the words of caution. It would be ironic – not to mention terribly sad -- if, in the very act of trying not to miss out on my life, I missed it completely.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Alien Adventures in Space

The definite highlight of the day yesterday was when J and I drove down to the Zach Scott Theatre to see our boys on stage in the culminating production of their week in summer theatre camp. They staged it in their lovely black box theatre. The set decorations, depicting a rocket ship in space, were done by the students, as the theme of the showcase for both Jackson’s and Diego’s age groups was “Alien Adventures in Space.” (Very appropriate, now that I think of it, on the day of the final launch of the Space Shuttle.)

Jackson’s group was first, and Jackson portrayed a tiger. He was “in costume,” wearing a pair of orange and black vertical striped pants and a tail. It was fascinating (and nerve-racking, of course) to watch him on stage. As his parents, J and I were a nail-biting mess.

I say he was fascinating to watch because our little extrovert, our little attention-seeking missile became a shrinking violet before my very eyes. He appeared to be super-aware of all the eyes that were on him – you could see it on his face. Any “lines” he was supposed to have went out the window, including the key moment when the aliens ask him if he eats meat. I’m guessing he was supposed to say yes, which would have scared them away. Instead he said no, and the adult actress playing the lead alien said, “You’re a vegetarian tiger?” She then threw a plastic “steak” on the floor, and Jackson rolled his eyes and went to get it, as the aliens ran off.

Diego’s play was more involved, and we had worked to get him “off book,” with his lines memorized for the last couple of days. If I was nervous for Jackson, I was doubly so for Diego, our shy guy.

As the story – about the Cat in the Hat taking a trip to the planet of Thing 1 and Thing 2 – moved along toward Diego’s first cue, I saw him step downstage to the teacher and ask for his script. She sent him back to his spot, and he tripped over his first line a bit, before one of his fellow space animals (Diego was something called a “gatoraffe”) bailed him out.

After getting through that first line, he delivered the rest of them loudly and clearly. Our “shy guy” did a nice job, both remembering his lines and delivering them convincingly and with feeling.

The whole thing was pretty impressive, considering it was done in four and a half days. Most importantly, when I asked them, both boys said they enjoyed the experience and would do it again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting to a Point of Wellness

I had my first acupuncture treatment yesterday with the woman J has been seeing. Austin Family Acupuncture is only a quick 5 minute drive from where I work, so I was able to run over for a long lunch hour.

The acupuncturist, Naae, (pronounced “Nigh”) is knowledgeable and has a calm and calming presence. She put me at ease immediately, which made it easy for me to answer her questions about the state of my mind and body.

I tried acupuncture for the first time as part of my treatment for my lower back. This would have been some time in the mid-1990’s. I can’t remember if I did only one session or more, but I do recall having the sense that it didn’t do much of anything.

This time, I am doing it more as a way to treat this sinus condition – not in lieu of, but in addition to, traditional “Western” treatment. And this time, unlike the last, I felt relief almost immediately. The needles she placed on my face opened up my sinuses. My daily headache faded away, and I fell asleep.

I will see her again on Monday afternoon at 4 to follow up and get another treatment, before going in for surgery on the sinuses on Thursday.

She did also tell me something else that will be helpful: By going out and riding my bike without eating anything first, I’ve been defeating the purpose of trying to lose weight. Apparently, because I’m going out with lowered blood sugar, my body is pumping enzymes that become sugar and then bubbling FAT. From now on, I plan to eat a banana before going out on the bike.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Other Grandfather

I've already written about my father's father, Bill Fuchs, in a previous post. My mother’s father was a man named Herman Thomas Runyan, who was born on April 6, 1897 and died in 1986, while I was away at college. He had spent the final few years of his life living with us in our house, before moving to a rest home in his final days.

Herman was a bit of a mystery to me. I didn’t see much of him growing up, as he was down in Little Rock, Arkansas, which, on the few occasions I did visit, felt completely foreign to me. I remember two little girls cornering me in a supermarket there, one of them saying to the other, “It’s him. It’s Jack Tripper from Three’s Company.”

“Uh, I’m twelve,” I answered.

“Yeah, twelve,” my brother, ten at the time, added.

“Oh my gosh,” one of the girls giggled. “I just think y’all have the cutest li’l accent!”

Herman has a special place in my life, because he is the subject of the only short story I’ve managed to publish thus far, The Watch, which chronicles his days with us at our home in Purchase, as his health deteriorated. They printed it in the Winter, 1985 edition of the SU literary magazine at that time, The Review. It’s not a bad story, I have to say. I just re-read it for the first time in years, and it holds up fairly well. It’s really about a young person having to face up to the aging process, and with the fact that everyone he loves, and he himself, will die one day.

He was my mother’s subject, as well, not only in a high school pencil sketch (above) but in a lovely poem, which is actually a nice companion piece to my short story, called Tea Parties:

The man who used to throw me in the air,

and make me laugh, and shiver with excitement,

I now give baths to.

Every other day: we plan them carefully.

We exercise much more thought

than we ever did

for the tea parties of my childhood.

When he was thirty-five, I was five.

We sliced the apples very thin

and laid them on soda crackers.

Our tea was milk,

and afterwards we often took a walk

in the sweet-and-bad smelling Chicago dusk,

under the rumbling El.

But he can hardly walk now.

He’s 87.

So weak, so frail.

Should “we” lower him into the tub,

or put him in it seated on a stool?

He lets me decide.

Look at all the diamonds,

I used to say.

(The mica in the sidewalk

on which the moon shone

as we walked hand in hand.)

I gently wash his face.

Briskly soap his back, arms, chest, legs.

Attend to each misshapen toe,

then hand the cloth to him

for the remaining parts.

When I was young,

The veins and muscles of his arms entranced me.

He was so strong and wonderful!

The money-earner who, one special payday,

brought me roller skates.

He’s so thin now.


Rising slowly, carefully,

from his beloved bath.

A rosy victim of a holocaust.

Those magic summer days!

Squealing little girls with blue lips

splashing ‘round him in Lake Michigan.

How gallantly he shepherded us

back and forth on the trolley.

I help him dress. We reminisce.

“Do you remember our tea parties?”

he asks.

“Oh, yes, I do,” I answer,

“and all the rest.”

Looking back, I wish I’d made more of my time with him – gotten to know him a bit better. Back then, in my early twenties, I was so very self involved; I didn’t see what a wealth of knowledge, and interesting stories I had with me in that little TV room in Purchase, New York.

I do know, from reading our family genealogy, Tracking the Descendants of Isaac Barefoot Runyan by Marie Runyan Wright, (Gateway Press, Baltimore, 1980), that Herman served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, in the Medical Corps aboard the U.S.S. Wyoming.

I also remember him as an exceedingly sweet man who, in his later years, would become effusively emotional at the drop of a hat. When my friends would come over and say hello to him at our house, he must have experienced their greeting as a gesture of kindness, because he would invariably cry.

I have a photograph of him somewhere, in his Navy whites, handsome as all get-out, with a confident look on his young face. He had his whole life ahead of him.

I miss him, just as I miss all the other Runyans and Fuchses who have left. To say that I’ll see them again someday sounds too clichéd, and I’m not certain I believe it. What feels more accurate to me, if no less clichéd, is that they live on in me, and in my children.

I’m starting to understand that our ancestors are always with us.