Saturday, March 12, 2011

In Which the Author Relates How He Got a Mild Concussion

I know. I'm milking this for all it's worth. But here is the story:

So we have this pep rally at Vista del Blanco High School, where I teach, and I have been asked to participate in the balloon Popping competition. There are five members to a team. Each team member has a balloon tied to his or her leg. When the whistle sounds the teams attack one another, trying to pop all of the other team's balloons.

I lead the charge, thinking my team will follow me. There I am, in enemy territory, when I hear behind me "Pop! Pop! Pop! POP! Run Mr. O! RUN!"

I turn around and see my team has been decimated.

A smarter man would have surrendered, but I am filled with tiger blood and I attack the other team single-handedly. The desperate battle ensues. I take a step and notice there's nothing to step on.

As I go down, I think that I'm correcting myself, but I keep going down. I fall on my knee, then my arm, then my shoulder, then my upper back, and finally, the back of my head, which hits the cement.

Apparently, I stepped off the stage and into the surrounding gutter.

I didn't lose consciousness. I thought that I might be bleeding, so I felt the back of my head before I got up. It was moist, but that turned out to be sweat.

I got up as many students rushed to help me. I was a little dazed and had to catch my breath. Then I told everyone that I was alright.

I walked back to my room, clear at the other end of the campus, and went to my desk and sat down.

As I sat there, I realized that, if I were brain-injured, I probably wouldn't feel it. So I walked back to the front of the school and into the health office and asked the aide there to look at the back of my head. She told me that it was very red and that a welt was forming and that I should see a doctor.

She called in the Assistant Principal who agreed.

This is where the "system" really broke down. My only excuse for what I did was that I had just hit my head on concrete.

What should have happened was that the Admin on duty should have taken me into the health office after I fell. They should have sat me down, given me an ice pack to minimize the swelling of my brain, asked me some simple questions like what day it was and where I was to see if my brain was functioning properly, taken a statement about what happened and taken me to their Workman's Comp doctor.

None of this happened.

I asked if they meant that I should go to urgent care. They told me that I should. So, I went to my car and drove myself to MY urgent care doctor.

Half-way there, I realized what a stupid idea that was--but I was almost there, so I drove on.

When I got there, I felt pretty steady. I checked in. A doctor put me through a series of balance and coordination tests and said that I had suffered a minor concussion. He prescribed a pain-killer for the headaches that were coming my way.

The headaches and other pains have been pretty minor, but I have been taking the meds about once a day. I didn't see the Workman's Comp doctor until Friday.

She performed the same tests as the other doctor and had me x-rayed. Said that everything looked good. Gave me a prescription for inflammation. I have a follow-up on Tuesday.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Insignificant memories 2

So my students shared some of their insignificant moments today:

1. "I have three. The first is when my dad let me help him skin and butcher a bear he had killed. The second is when he let me help him slaughter a pig."

2. "The day I super-glued one of my eyes shut."

3. "My Uncle was supposed to be baby-sitting me, but invited some of my friends over and they all got drunk. They went out to the barn where the pigs were. I heard this squealing. Then they came out and built a fire and started cooking the pig they had just slaughtered. My mom came home and got really mad."

4. "When I was a little kid, I asked my mom if I could go next door to my cousin's house. She said yes. When I got there, two ladies answered the door. Nobody had told me that my cousin had moved. The two ladies made me a sandwich and let me watch TV."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Insignificant Memories

Today, my sophomores finished watching Act Two of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Afterwards, as a lead-in to tomorrow’s viewing of Act Three, I had them write a about a memory of an insignificant day in their lives—one that may or may not have turned out to be significant later on. I gave two examples from my own life to show them what I meant, both involving my grandpa.

Both take me back to when Grandpa and Grandma lived on a ranch. I call it a ranch—we all called it a ranch—but I don’t recall any livestock or crops. All I remember is a couple of ducks…maybe a dog. There was a house and a barn.
The first memory is about those ducks. I must have been around four. My brother Billy C got the tall white duck. I got the little green duck. I use the term “got” loosely because, after all, they belonged to Grandpa and they lived on his ranch…for awhile anyway. For that matter, I don’t know that either of the ducks liked my brother or me because they only saw us when we came visiting. We’d drive up into the yard and there they’d be, flapping their wings, quacking. I suspect they flapped and quacked even when we weren’t around.

But in our minds, they belonged to us.

Then, one day we arrived at Grandpa and Grandma’s ranch and the ducks didn’t flap or quack. They were gone. If I remember correctly, no one came up with any euphemistic story about our ducks’ fate. I’m pretty sure that Grandpa just explained that he had them slaughtered and that he and Grandma had them for dinner one night.

Poor ducks.

The second memory is of how we used to fly kites there. Billy C, our cousin Byron, and I took our kites to a field next to Grandpa’s ranch and, with the help of Grandpa, Dad, and Uncle Bill, would get them flying. Once they sailed high into the sky, we’d send them “notes.” We’d take scraps of paper and tear them halfway and scribble messages to our kites. Then, we’d each slip our note onto our kite string and watch it glide up the string, spinning all the way, until it reached our kite. It was a wide, empty field, so the kites would stay up a long time without getting caught on any trees or telephone poles.

I must be pretty close to Grandpa’s age at that time, though he seemed ancient to me. Now, when I look at pictures from those times, we all seem endlessly young.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Things I Saw Today

Two cats lurking around my mother's cat's food dish while my mother's cat sat under the tree, hoping they'd just leave.

Outside the grocery store, a toddler who called me Grampa. Cute kid, I thought. Later, in the store, she started one of those nuclear, screeching tantrums that shot through the store. How quickly they turn.

A tattered page from an old short story I had written.

A text from Billy C saying that Liam was on his way to PA.

My dryer full of wet clothes I thought I had dried a week ago. Ahhhh..mildew!

A student from last year walking into Wal Mart with her parents.

A bumper sticker with a picture of George Bush that said "Miss me yet?" I don't. Never will. Who would? Why?

A note from Emily asking me why I never write on her Facebook wall. I love you Emily.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


First night of the new semester back at the Writing and Reading Center at the local Community College. As I walked through the door, I first thought that we had a new Instructional Aide, but I was wrong. The lady I have always worked with was wearing a purple scarf wrapped around her head so as to cover her hair. Not an attractive scarf. And it wasn't arranged very attractively--just sort of wound around her head and held in place by a couple of bobby pins.

The last time I had seen her, before break, she had cropped her long blond hair very short--but again, it was not stylish--just short.

And now, her head was covered. Had she converted to Islam? Well, she still wore her big wooden cross around her neck. Had she become a nun? I don't think nuns wear purple. Cancer? Maybe she wore the scarf to cover hair loss. But, unlike most people I know who have gone through chemo, she seemed pretty energetic.

I thought about asking her, but changed my mind because I thought she had probably explained her reasons a hundred times to others and was either sick of explaining and just wanted to get on with normalcy or that she'd offer an explanation eventually or I would just find out through the usual information grapevine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Last Christmas with Mom

It wasn't fun, but I'm glad I was there.

Everyone in Billy C's family was sick with that thing that was going around last year and they didn't want to expose any residents at Mom's assisted living facility, so they stayed home.

My gift to Mom was my time--money being tight, that's all I had.

So I drove through the pouring rain to Rubydoo to see her. Getting off the off-ramp, I was surprised by homeless guy sitting at the curb, holding his sign "Merry Christmas, anything will help" and scowling as the cars drove by. Also, another man stood on the island in the middle of the road, holding a sign advertising a local taco shop open for business nearby.

At Mom's, I put on a new DVD I had of the Soweto Gospel Choir for Mom to watch. I thought she'd like it more than she did. But she may have also been sad that day and, therefore, a little unresponsive.

While she watched and I listened to the choir, I tried to help her clean up the clutter of her room. She was wheelchair-bound and couldn't do much, so I did what I could and made a little more room for her.

The plan for the day was to see a movie and go out to dinner, so an attendant came and got her ready, giving her a bath and getting her dressed, while I repeatedly watched this one song that I liked on the DVD. The Soweto Gospel Choir sometimes does this weird harmonic thing where several people sing the same song at different times but somehow make it stick together. It's not exactly a round. I'm not sure what they called it. But I played this song many times because I just liked it a lot.

The rain came down hard and I hoped it wouldn't work against me. The food at this place wasn't so bad, but I didn't want to spend Christmas Day in an almost empty dining hall with silent old people who had no one to come get them. I wanted to get Mom out for a few hours.

I parked the car in the covered parking area and helped Mom get in the car, hoping that the rain would let up by the time we got to the Plaza, where we would be seeing the movie and having dinner. As we came out to the car, we had to pass a coroner's truck with a recently deceased person in a body bag waiting to be loaded up. I had noticed that someone might have died while going back and forth to Mom's room earlier.

We drove to the the Plaza and yes, the rain let up. But it was still cold as Hell.

First, I parked close to the theater and took Mom in to see "Doubt." A good film--but every few minutes, Mom would go "psssst" and ask me what had just happened. Now Mom couldn't hear very well, so, when I'd tell her what had just happened, I'd usually have to repeat it again. Louder. While other people tried to watch the movie.

After the film, we walked to the Mexican restaurant at the other end of the Plaza. The rain had stopped but a post-fog mist had settled around the shops and the cold bit at our faces. On our way, we ran into two teacher friends of mine, a couple, who were on their way to see a movie. I introduced them to Mom who told them what we had just seen and began critiquing the film for them , there in the freezing, foggy cold.

At dinner, I gave her her meds. And, as she often did, she began to zone out. Still, we had a pretty good talk.

My second gift to her was the gift of light. It was around 10 at night, and, as she always did, Mom began to dictate how we should get home. But I, as we drove down Arlington, turned down the first of the Wood streets and tuned to a radio station playing Christmas music.

"What are you doing?" she crabbed.

"I wanna show you something," I replied.

And there was the beginning of the Christmas lights. "Ooooh," she said.

And, except for the occasional "look at that house" or "those are pretty," we drove up and down the Wood streets, studying the light displays, filled with silent awe .

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

John Lennon's Dead

At the time, I was 26 years old, renting a little guest cottage on Larchwood Place, behind a larger house where my landlord lived. It is among my favorite places where I have lived, almost like a studio apartment, it was so small.

I worked at Montgomery Wards, managing the catalog department. A job I hated, except for the parties after work most weekend nights.

I had just gotten a cassette player/recorder for my stereo system and had started transferring my LP's to tape. My brother called me with the news late that night. I had been recording my favorite songs from the White Album. In fact, I was recording "Julia."

I made joke (which I forget), mostly out of disbelief. It gradually sunk in about how this man was a force in the world who tried to use his popularity for good in the world.

Tom Snyder, host of Tomorrow on NBC, replayed his interview with John that night. Half of the interview covered the usual Beatle stuff and was pretty interesting. The other half included John's lawyer and was about his fight to stay in the USA--not really as interesting.

Double Fantasy had been released a short time before. Immediately after his death, local record stores had jacked up the prices for his albums...and people were buying them at these inflated prices. One record store manager told a local newspaper that it was only good business to do so. Eventually with enough public outcry, record stores brought the prices back down.

Yoko asked that people stop and observe ten minutes silence on a given day. I remember reading later in a newspaper that a girl had gotten fired from her job because she tries to observe the silence while on the sales floor.

A sad time.