The place to come to wag more and bark less...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Our Hostile Experience at the Walmart at Mason and Harmony; Service Dog/Handler Teams Are Not Welcome There

On the afternoon of February 28, 2018 my service dog Sophie and I were denied entry to the Ft Collins Walmart location on Mason Street and Harmony Road.

Interestingly the premise for denying me entry was that Sophie was required by store policy and Colorado State law to be on a leash. As an upper limb amputee this requirement made no sense, for holding a leash wouldn’t leave my hand free to do any actual shopping.

It’s been my experience that the reason some people behave in ways they know to be wrong and/or illegal is because they believe they can get away with it. This is one excellent example.

This experience took place at a Walmart where I know there to be a great disparity in leadership/management quality. Perhaps my only error is to have made the mistake of expecting too much from a low-cost retailer with a reputation for poor customer service.

However I was in a pinch and had no other place to go at the time. Plus I’d shopped there a number of times without being accosted at the door and had no reason to believe today would be different.

One of the people identifying himself as a manager acknowledged having seen Sophie and I in their store before. It’s where I get her pain prescriptions.

In an effort to avoid stepping on Sophie and to maintain some degree of discretion in this situation which had already begun drawing a great deal of unwanted attention to me I stepped around Sophie.

The young man, who behaved as if he were some knowledgeable crusader for preserving the sanctity of what he’d likely been told was an unquestionable state law and store policy that could never be broken. So I requested to speak to a store manager.

This person proved to be, as the saying goes, Useless as tits on a bull. Upon arriving she admonished me for what she perceived to be my disrespect for her “store associate,” speaking as if she were some dime store Gandh.

She echoed the young man’s blather about state law and store policy then said she needed to “go research the store policy.”

Clearly it wasn’t enough that I identified Sophie as my service dog and myself as her handler. Nor was it enough that another manager who knew me to be a previous customer did not say anything on my behalf. Since I didn’t yet know him to have seen me shopping there I didn’t know to ask him to speak up.

Still, I felt as if the assistant managers there did not speak for themselves out of fear and intimidation of the store’s manager. Again the tits on a bull metaphor applies.

So, in the absence of a better solution I called the police as recommended by a trusted advocate in Denver. The police said they would not come to the store and instead advised me to leave the store and to follow up my concerns with a report to the company. The same, tired “bull” metaphor once again fit.

I heeded the police recommendation and left for my next pit stop, Sam’s Club. As it happens Sophie and I are regular, welcome fixtures at that store. They respect Sophie’s and my working relationship and, because of that I relax my grip on her somewhat.

Sophie loves them and they her, so I let them visit while we all chat. It makes everyone’s day more pleasant as a result and is the polar opposite of the experience I had at the Walmart today.

Knowing that Sam’s Club is a Walmart brand I spoke to one the store manager there today. Though we’d never spoken he knew who we are and our positive association with his store. So I asked his feedback regarding what had happened at the Walmart an hour earlier.

He acknowledged that what had happened to us there was wrong and that my impression that the store management was inept was accurate, too. He confirmed a phone number I could call to make my complaint known directly to the company.

Later that evening as I researched the subject online I discovered a plethora of negative reviews about the company. It seems that the negative history of store employees’ and management’s disregard for their customers runs deep there.

It immediately became clear that the Walmart store culture actually promotes negative, even condescending behavior by store employees toward customers. And it begins at the top level at the store and the example filters downstream.

Again, I believe that people sometimes do things they know to be wrong for the simple reason they can get away with it. Apparently doing so fills a void that would otherwise remain open and bare.

Under these circumstances, perhaps they see a disabled man with a service dog as an easy target. It’s certainly how I felt when singled out at the store entrance today.

In essence I was given no choice but to follow through with a pushback I know to be legally as well as logically in my favor. But the law is what matters and I was left with no other choice.

However, my interpretation of this situation is that the store personnel couldn’t care less about my investment of time and energy in pursuing what I know to be legal and just.

Regardless, I’d never feel comfortable entering that store again. The pros of no longer frequenting that store are many, from its cramped aisles to its cramped and twisted parking lot to what I now know to be store employees that are not committed to creating positive customer experiences.

I’m therefore not going to waste time trying to secure an apology from anyone who wouldn’t genuinely offer one to begin with. Nor does it make sense to try to pursue any other sort of remedy, for my voice would be lost amidst the cacophony of other disgruntled consumers.

I will, however take every opportunity to dissuade others from frequenting that store for the reasons I’ve stated above. That store, by the way is not a Superstore but a “regular” Walmart location. Perhaps the employees, particularly management see themselves as second class citizens relative to their counterparts at the larger stores.

This doesn’t justify their poor performance but, if true it becomes more understandable.

Happily I can say that my experience at the Walmart today was merely a disappointment. Aside from that experience Sophie and I had a wonderful day, full of smiles and pleasant interaction with just about everyone we saw.

Sophie and I know we are special, just as we also know that everyone is special. Here in Ft Collins I’ve always found a certain friendliness that pervades this community. It’s a big reason why this town has become my adopted Colorado hometown; I really do like the people here because they seem to genuinely like each other.

Having lived in numerous big cities I have a pretty strong basis of comparison. They all have their pros and cons, of course but given my personal preferences, Ft Collins stands out among them all.

Perhaps I’d feel differently about further pursuing my disenchantment with the Walmart today if we were in the midst of a larger, anonymous community.

But what I saw at the Walmart here is not an accurate reflection of this community and, as such is best left alone. Now that I’m aware of its negative energy it only makes sense to never go there.

I’m committed to only frequenting places that have the best and friendliest people we know. It makes for the most mutually satisfying experiences possible and always leaves us with a good feeling.

That said, I highly encourage you to avoid shopping at the Walmart location on Mason Street and Harmony Road.

From one friendly person to another please beware that your pleasantness may not be reciprocated for reasons that will only leave you guessing, Like Sophie and I, you deserve better and you’ll likely find it elsewhere, as we have,

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Stranger In My Own Home

Shortly before leaving for college, I don’t remember exactly when, I went in to my baby sister Sharon’s room. She was only a few years old and not the favored daughter as my oldest younger sister.

It’s a Mexican thing, I’ve noticed, for the first-born girl to be the princess, all other kids-and even the mother, who’s suddenly competing for her husband attention be damned.

That said, I knew Sharon would always be at a disadvantage, growing up in the shadow of her older sister. I knew she wouldn’t get the same attention and wondered just how disfavored she’d be made to feel.

A Mexican father’s lack of inhibition in celebrating his princess daughter is part of the deal, i knew from seeing my teflon Aunt Rita, my father’s sister, as I grew up. Unlike me, my father was the last-born male in his family and therefore disfavoed by his father, a fact he insecurely lorded over me. Weird, those people’s family dynamics.

Anyhow, knowing all this I remember crying as I held Sharon for fear that the home I was leaving her in would be the same to her as it was to me – a horrible place.

It was a particularly poignant moment for me: Though I wouldn’t have known it then, it would be the first, closest moment to being a parent that I’d ever have. And also those few moments with Sharon signaled the first time I’d ever leave a loved one behind without looking back.

Over the course of my life, three of these would be kids, my own daughter and a girlfriend’s two boys. That is, as close as I’d ever be able to let anyone get.

Everyone else in my immediate family except Sharon knew all the secrets about me and my horrible things that went on with my parents and I. That said, leaving Sharon behind was the beginning, just the first of many many sudden turn-my-back-and-walk-away moments with people in general.

In a sense, I have always been a functional person living with borderline tendencies. As a post-college adult I’ve lived a workaday life with no apparent outward limitations. Inside, however I’ve always felt torn up and horribly injured. Unbeknownst to anyone, just below the surface I’ve always been ready to cut and run from them.

Naturally, there have been some times I felt that way more than others, when that fragile surface was scratched deep, but not quite deep enough to trigger the flight or fight response.

There have also been a handful of times however, all of which can be easily documented, when that cut was deep enough to trigger fight or flight – and I fled.

Throughout this time, addiction had a deleterious effect on all my relationships, and has been the only thing remaining after they ended. It’s simple: Because my personal history then indicated every relationship I’ve ever had or would have will eventually go down in flames I was hesitant to drop my coping mechanism because I knew I’d eventually need it to recover.

Up to the very moment of my bicycle accident with a car, I had been addicted to endorphins. That fine feeling was something I could not get enough of and, in fact, I was so stoned on endorphins when my accident occurred I was hesitant to say so lest my words be misconstrued and it’d appear at fault for the accident.

Still, I cannot help but think that I played some role in that accident. I’ve had- and still sometimes have -lots of self-doubts about this. Could I have stopped in time? Part of me thinks I could have. Could I have avoided it completely? Maybe I could have.

But I was so high then that I might never have imagined life getting any better than at that very moment. It was a take-me-now-God feeling that I’d worked up in just the space of only about an hour on the bike, as if OD’ing on the body’s own, naturally produced painkiller. And why not? I’d had the feeling a million times before.

So, while both of my marriages had been largely asexual, I could never get enough of my bike. My insatiable drive for endorphins trumped everything.

In fact, I once shared a joke among some teammates and other less familiar cycling buddies. I knew it to hit very close to home regarding my own relationships but it drew a smile from me anyway: What’s the difference between women and bicycles? Bicycles don’t mind if you ride other bikes.

Not that I rode other women, but I did ride other bikes when I should probably have been astride my woman at home. I can’t think of any less vulgar way of putting that, but the gist is there.

It was always tongue-in-cheek funny among some of my teamates, all of whom seemed like such successful people: Lawyers, doctors, surgeons, entrepreneurial marketing and PR professionals, and God knows what else.

When we were all together, I remember looking around at them and wondering what skeletons, like me, those guys might have been hiding. What was lurking beneath their surface just like there was lurking beneath mine?

Most of the time, though, I felt like a junkie in a room full of straight people. I had a secret I didn’t want anybody to know about and lived in fear that it would come out.

This last feeling I attribute to having grown up in an abusive home. It was my first, most devastating and longest-lasting introduction to the later realization that I’d been raised in a shame-based religion:  Catholicism.

But so had some of my teammates, one of whom was a great guy who seemed to have a good relationship with his wife and son. As we waited to begin every race he always looked down to the crucifix he’d cemented to his top tube and said a prayer.

He was not like my father, who daily shamed me as a kid for the things I could not help as I grew up: acne, a developing sexuality, my seizure history. I was an easy, captive target for him, without a mother to step in and push back in my defense. I accepted shame as not unusual, but normal. I didn’t even know then I was being shamed.

Therefore, the factors I dealt with as a kid were not conducive to creating healthy, long-term relationships, whether friendships at school or at work.

Anytime anyone got too close, I would cut and run for the very reason that they became too close. I simply didn’t know what to do and was scared of the unfamiliarity of the situation, of not knowing how to be close to anyone.

As a result, I went through decades of relationships whereby I would get close to people then turn and run away. Looking into their eyes as it happened, which I’d usually announce by loudly voicing my displeasure with them as I abruptly left, I could see their confusion. I knew it was happening again, whatever it was. Today I can’t help but wonder if they’d seen my confusion, too. I’m sure it was there.

Unlike my siblings, I am not now nor ever have been in touch with friends from high school or college. I am not in touch with my own daughter. I am not in touch with either of my ex-wives and, quite frankly, I don’t understand why I am still in touch with my ex-in-laws. Not that I mind - I am grateful to have them. Except for my current therapist, they are the longest-lasting, positive relationship I’ve had with anybody my entire life.

I think it’s because I know that they love me unconditionally and that they never judge me. I don’t know why I had to wait so long in my life to find such good role models. I’ve long felt at a point where I no longer feel I can extend what I’ve learned from them to anybody else.

Sophie, of course, loves me unconditionally as well so it’s no surprise that I have anthropomorphized her. I treat her like I should have treated every woman in my life: she’s a lady, an Angel, a gift from God.

From her I have learned the immeasurable benefits of being part of a mutually unconditional and loving partnership. The things she has endured for me I could never adequately describe to anyone. The things I have endured for her have also been extreme except that, as the human, the sentient one, I understand what’s happening.

And because of my familiarity with physically and emotionally abusive situations, I am well equipped to understand and to handle them. Still, Sophie is the stronger of the two of us.

Getting back to the endorphin highs I used to achieve while cycling: There was something I didn’t see then that’s become clear to me now: I’ve been a chemically dependent person all my life.

One of my favorite introductory phrases about the nature of things in general was to say “In cycling, as in life, blah blah blah...”

And from what I’ve come to learn about junkies, I realize that whatever addicts are plagued by - booze, heroin, cocaine or any other opioid, adrenaline, endorphins or testosterone – they might say the same thing. Their drug, their chosen chemical has become their life.

So if you consider my near death experience – which unfortunately did not take my life as I believe it should have, I was left without the chemical substance upon which I’d been dependent for decades.

Endorphin highs are how I dealt with the real pain inside me, and I needed a regular fix to keep me going through until the next one.

Talk about being a functional addict: I used to openly say that “Work is an eight hour break between bike rides.” And I was proud of it, too. Too bad I wasn’t a paid, professional cyclist.

But few things topped the feeling of anticipation I had when I changed out of my work clothes in the men’s room and into my cycling shorts and headed toward my bike for the long, sweet ride home. Except on Fridays, when I knew I also had the next two days to look forward to on the bike. No matter the weather, it was always the high point of my day.

After my bicycle accident with a car, the chronic pain I had was not just physical, but emotional. Yes, I was beat up like Evel Knievel after a major crash.

But I began losing my sense of hygiene which I’ve yet to fully regain. I suddenly found myself with no functional hands: One arm was dead because of the crash, and my other hand was shattered. It had been surgically reconstructed and would take God only knew how long to work again.

Just getting to the bathroom was an exercise in agony and, once there an exercise in humility and deep shame,. It hurt like hell to get up, to take the ten painful steps to get there which might as well have been a mile. The pain and the dizziness sometimes conspired to make incontinence seem more desirable.

But even worse, my inability to wipe myself or shower or blow my nose or perform any similarly personal task meant I had to rely upon my wife to do it. Overnight I went from the strongest physical condition I’d ever known to being as helpless as a newborn baby.

It was a prison in which I was trapped. I did not know when the return of the use of my hand would come and, for someone who was deathly afraid of intimacy, I found few things more intimate than that.

In many ways I’m still trapped. In the RV, anytime I relieve myself, I apologize to Sophie for her having to watch me squat over the can. I apologize to her for how dirty the floor is, I apologize for being unable to stay with my ex-wife because I know Sophie loved her, too.

Though I’m over it, it breaks my heart to recall how Sophie’d approach the driver’s side door of the car when my ex-wife got home. Sophie’s habit lingered long after the divorce, when she’d approach similarly-colored Subaru wagons the same way, fully expecting to see her person get out.

I feel as if I have denied myself all of the things that make a person healthy, with the conspicuous exception of Sophie yet, in so doing have denied Sophie as well. My life now exists largely to make it up to her, never mind myself.

In the absence of endorphins and in the face of unbelievably excruciating intimate contact with someone – my ex-wife – I was introduced by someone to the use of medical marijuana.

I was raised Catholic by self-righteous parents who, though not alcoholics, would “enjoy a drink” on certain occasions. Though they weren’t drunks, they thought nothing of getting tipsy. And why not? The priest chugs a chalice of wine before the congregation at every service. Hell, it’d be a sin to not drink, for it’s one of the most Christ-like things anyone can do.

But police officers, even Catholic ones might disagree. On a roadside sobriety test what some might refer to being “tipsy“ or “buzzed“ in the eyes of the law is being under the influence-drunk.

Anyone who’s been “buzzed” knows that you are either drunk or stoned or well on your way to being drunk or stoned. Yet the stigma of pot smoking- smoking dope - in my family culture persisted.

As an adult with chronic pain issues though, at my wit’s end from all the pain medication with side effects like constipation that marginalized the painkilling effects left me open to something, anything else.

My ex-wife’s brother had long since been a pothead, years before it was legal in the state. After legalization it seems he made quite a good living for himself and his family with it.

Though my ex’s family were Mormon and anything but potheads, the culture of their family didn’t put a stigma on its use. Terrible isn’t it, to think I was raised in a family culture that was, in some ways more tightly wound than Mormons?

The pot worked as promised, with the added benefit of being stoned. It’s a great feeling, one that I think everyone should feel in their life just once even though I know not everyone is equipped to handle it. I believe, though, that I’m one such person. The pain I have runs much deeper than any drug has managed to reach but pot has been the closest thing to endorphins I’ve since found.

As someone who embraces scholarly pursuits, I don’t expect my therapist-friend would ever understand the feeling of regularly being high on a regular basis. Only the most disciplined scholars who have the passion and persistence to earn a PsyD could ever understand such a dependency without actually knowing it firsthand.

But I know endorphins and, though I don’t know yoga, I do know exercise and the pleasure endorphins bring, no matter their delivery system. That means I don’t consider my therapist, a devout yogi to be chemically dependent on anything beyond endorphins. But I am certain she understands the concept of addiction, however.

Just like so many other things I was naïve to, I didn’t realize my own addictive personality and in fact only recently have begun understanding. Consider this:

I didn’t touch any drug save my seizure meds as a teenager living at home. Even during my first week or so in the dorms at Penn State I was ambivalent about the idea of drinking just one beer. All my peers, it seemed had gone through their experimentation with alcohol in high school or they didn’t at all. But I had maybe two or three friends in high school and certainly never went to any parties. All that was to change in college.

I had always been warned as a kid that for me to drink any alcohol would result in some unimaginably terrible physical consequences. The same Fear that guided my parents was liberally directed toward me as well.

So, once I overcame that ambivalence, that fear of drinking a beer, the floodgates flew open. Fresh out of high school, into my first, second and third years of college, my life revolved around cigarettes and beer.

I attributed my beer drinking – my need to swap out the inner feelings I had while sober with the more pleasant feeling of partying with others while getting drunk – as a release from the pain of having lived in such an awful environment for so many years. Along with my cohorts, I believed I was in good company.

Suddenly I was invited to parties left and right, on a fast track into what I thought to be the world of adulthood. I knew everybody on campus it seemed and they knew me. And there were lots of good, solid guys in my group.

During my freshman year, we even grew so weary of the only fraternity’s tight-assed brotherhood that we organized into a cohesive group that eventually established a chapter of a second fraternity on campus. It was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of my freshman year, though I transferred out of that campus the following year.

Though frat parties, especially at Penn State will never be the same, I wasn’t even there to enjoy any of the wilder frat parties I helped facilitate.

My name, however, is inscribed on some plaque somewhere on campus for posterity. As I said, some of my frat buddies were good, solid guys who remembered me, though I haven’t seen or spoken with them since.

I thought my sudden social skills, finely honed under a keg tap, was a natural outlet for all the physical and emotional abuse I faced everyday as a kid. And, indeed it may have been. I didn’t realize it was actually the sign of having an addictive personality.

Coming from parents whose heads were buried in the fine gold sand of Catholicism and rank-and-file unionist Republicanism they couldn’t see outside of themselves enough to realize anything else. My father drank beer, his father and older brother drank beer, etc. To them I was just following in their footsteps.

Even though I managed to graduate from college, I barely did so with a D average. Ironically, though it was a real “achievement“ to have earned a college degree, my lousy college transcript was never anything I would dare share with anyone. It merely became yet another source of shame.

One day, drinking beer and partying with friends didn’t serve me any longer. So I quit, dropping it overnight as if it’d never been a part of my life, just as I’d done with cigarettes two years earlier.

Having been to three different campuses during my first three years of college and living alone my fourth year allowed me to virtually reinvent myself every year.

My first year, I lived in the dorms. My second year I lived at home and commuted to college. I partied more than ever and drank a staggering amount of beer that even I sometimes had trouble believing. I don’t think I was trying to hurt myself, I was just pushing my limits.

What’s more, I drove my van – the old family clunker- to campus and back five days a week, about an hour each way. Though Monday through Thursday I was sober, on Friday night it was guaranteed I would arrive home late, if at all, still drunk.

Most often, however, I would pass out in a friend‘s basement where we listened to Led Zeppelin all night long, talking about women as if we knew what we were talking about and how badly we would love to have gotten laid. Never mind that our usual inebriated state would have rendered us unable to get it up anyway.

But, in its own weird way, I still regard it as among some of the happiest times of my life. I was still a virgin then – a fact attributable to being Catholic and it’s frowning upon extramarital relations, though chronic drunkenness was apparently okay.

I saw my whole life ahead of me, unencumbered by any real commitments or responsibilities or uptight parents breathing down my neck. It was unlike any time I’ve since known and for good reason:

Regarding shame and Catholicism, while only a few years old I was present for something my siblings were not – my father‘s infidelity to my mother and the ensuing fallout between them.

The screaming, my mother’s throwing things, the constant turmoil are still fresh. It was traumatic for a kid, though my parents couldn’t see beyond their own trauma to realize it was having a terrible effect on me.

Perhaps the worst thing a parent could do in such a situation my parents did to me; they dragged me into it.

I remember my mother putting me in the car to drive over and surprise/confront my father with the woman he thought he was covertly seeing, though I plainly remember my mother pointing out lipstick on my father’s shirt one day, and there was lots of screaming when that happened.

My mother used me as a pawn to show the other woman that the man she was fooling around with was a father. Perhaps she believed that since her husband-my father-knew that this woman existed then the fact my father was still seeing her must be the woman’s fault. As if my father was innocent.

But what about my father‘s complicity in his affair? How could my mother be so blind as to blame my father’s infidelity on the other woman? My father was equally complicit, if not in fact the one who encouraged the affair. I don’t think that way, but they do, and always will. The power of denial was lost on them, and still is.

This blindness, this blame-the-other-party mentality was something both my parents also had when it came to me.

My parents never stuck up for me, no matter whether what I’d done was right or wrong. To them, I was always to blame for anything negative I encountered. This even includes the last time I spoke with my mother, just after Sophie and I were violently separated in the Arizona desert in 2017.

It was not until I was released from the county jail and, for lack of anyone else, I called my mother. I can’t imagine why I did that and regretted it immediately. Her response – “you just called to upset me“ and my father’s refusal to speak to me were predictable.

But it told me in so many words, flat out, that my parents were never my friends, for friends are always there for each other. And I believe every parent must, if nothing else, be thought of by their kids as, at the very least a dependable friend.

Though my parents’ reaction hurt initially, the realization that my parents were never my friends validated the bulk of my adult life spent ignoring them.

Though I didn’t know why, I always knew those people were toxic for me and, as long as they draw a breath, they will remain so.

Because my brother and sisters did not experience the turmoil between my parents that I did, my parents don’t seem to appreciate the fact that I ignore them. For as long as I’m not in their lives, their secret is safe, though they’ll always live in fear of being exposed. They’re Catholic and therefore must always have something to fear.

That said, my parents have understandably scapegoated me so that any of their past malfeasance that occurred falls upon my shoulders. Not knowing our parents as I do, it isn’t a stretch for my siblings to adopt my their parents’ narrative on the family history.

In that same sense, my parents are exercising their blame-the-other-person mentality and, of course, I am that other person.

Though I receive no recognition for it – only a succession of many years of heartache and relationship dysfunction – in being vilified in absentia, I have served a very viable purpose for holding my immediate family together:

My personal absence from their lives is tantamount to keeping the peace in general. If I were still there, the Fear I’d instill in my parents due to my inside knowledge of their less-than -pristine past would only create discord among all of them.

That said, no matter what I was always destined to sever the ties with my parents and, given my birth order, my siblings, too.

Which leads me full circle back to the only substance I found, not that I’ve been looking, to ease my pain – pot.

While it has temporarily eased my pain and even made me feel quite high, it has done little more than to completely occupy my mind while my ex-wife was studying for her real estate exam.

It was around 2015, a few years after my accident and shortly after I suddenly found myself out of my own home. It was as if some plan had been hatched then that everyone knew about but me.

My nieces and nephews and their mother showed up on my doorstep one spring break and never left. Gradually all their belongings showed up and their mother moved in, too.

According to their story, their father had been abusing them and they sought refuge in my home.

Evidently my ex-wife consented to this, though I knew nothing about it. I’d put a lot of sweat equity into that home and had no plans to leave. I knew all my neighbors and was on such good and familiar terms with them. It was my home. They were my friends.

Suddenly, I found myself knee-deep in five Mormon kids and a mother with a bad attitude toward men in general and toward me, just because I happened to be there. Never mind the fact that it was my home, or at least I thought it was.

But, looking back on how everyone acted I was merely the last to know. My ex-wife didn’t have the same attachment to the home that I’d made, the down payment for which came from the settlement of the lawsuit from my accident. I guess the going rate then for a cookie cutter home in a newer Brighton neighborhood was a person’s left arm and a near death experience.

Therefore that home symbolized a great deal more than just a property value. I was no longer a cyclist, so I reached out to define myself anew: as a homeowner in a neighborhood full of people who became friends and embraced Sophie and I, who quickly became welcomed fixtures there.

I don’t even remember what my ex-wife did while we lived there, just that we went for many wonderful evening walks around the Adams County Courthouse and Municipal Building campus.

It was a beautiful location, despite its location along I-76. The highway was barely audible and the concrete path surrounding the complex was newly poured, with lots of bunnies for Sophie to chase, too. One evening she was sweet enough to thoughtfully bring me one, its guts spilling out everywhere.

It was truly a time when Sophie’s and my bond was strengthening, and this all happened before I’d even tried pot. In fact, despite the terrible pain of being on my trainer again, I still thought I might end up on a road bike again in search of endorphin highs I’d not yet achieved.

Unlike today, there was still a chance I might compete again and almost a certainty that I’d ride. But the physical pain won out and I had to face the fact that I’d never know cycling the way I once did. And if I couldn’t have that, I didn’t want it at all. I was left with no identity and no idea how to create one anew, or if I even wanted to.

It was under these lost circumstances that I was, for all practical purposes evicted from the Brighton home I’d established for us in favor of a wonderful Denver neighborhood. Upon leaving Brighton I literally had to go through the garage and take only those things I could carry, leaving most of the tools and the lawn mower and all the sundry stuff that made our home unique to us behind.

Leaving my bike tools was the worst, given the meaning they had. I was so crushed I threw out all my cycling clothing and pretty much everything else related to my cycling identity. It truly was adding insult to injury and I’d rarely felt more despondent.

Years later, in a fit of despair I even gave away my bicycles, my trainer my busted bike frame from my accident and all my other associated effects of a lifetime spent on two wheels and muscle power. It’s the one thing that, though I tore myself away from it, I have looked back countless times at my loss.

Tears still sometimes come to my eyes when I see other cyclists, though not out of anger or envy but of profound grief. I still can’t believe I lost the one thing that meant so much to me, the only real passion and pleasure I’ve ever allowed myself to indulge.

Cycling is still my identity but given my inability to ever ride like I did leaves me feeling just plain lost. I’m nothing without it, and though my body’s long past its usefulness on a bike my heart will always remember the feeling of riding one.

The muscle memory I felt in my pedaling cadence and that special hum I’d hear of that tiny piece of rubber where my tires met the road I’ll never forget.

Upon leaving my home in Brighton, I haven’t spoken to any of my former neighbors since. No surprise there. But my ex-wife, who still visited her sister and the kids related my former neighbors’ inquiries about Sophie and me and that they missed us and please call or come by, but I never did. It saddens me because I know Sophie loved seeing them, too..

As a capable one-armed guy who did everything they could do and then some, with that wonderful dog always by his side, never on a leash but always in control, I know we stood out. I still have yet to consider anyplace as safe as I did there. I don’t expect we ever will.

And given the turmoil and sheer problems my twisted ex-sister-in-law and her kids brought to that neighborhood I’m sure they missed us, too. I remember one day while I was still there three teenage boys showed up at my front door looking for my fourteen year old niece. Though I was very friendly, they became extremely and inexplicably belligerent, almost unwilling to leave my front door.

I didn’t respond well to their sudden becoming such punks that it quickly began to piss me off. There was even a moment when I was ready to grab a baseball bat or something to chase them away. But a much younger version of Sophie came and made herself visible. Seeing her standing beside me, the boys wisely took their problems elsewhere. It was the only sign they had any brains at all.

I remember thinking how I was once a horny teenager and though I’d never behave toward anyone the way these kids acted toward me I thought perhaps they were just more demonstrative about things.

“My poor niece, the crap she has to put up with,” I remember thinking. Then it dawned on me: Maybe my niece had willingly attracted such troublesome boys. And what was it about her that she and those boys found so attractive in each other?

Not long after, I saw it clearly: these kids were all trailer trashy people and I suddenly saw my niece for the statistic I believed she’d become (if she hasn’t already): an unplanned teen pregnancy with any number of potential fathers.

The boys who showed up at my door, knowing I was the only one home but not knowing Sophie was there had been told I was sexually abusing my niece, a story espoused by my ex-sister-in-law and my niece. They were going to show me who was boss, I guess. How naïve I was to all of that. But I don’t think that way so of course I couldn’t see it coming.

It was my ex-sister-in-law’s MO, to play the “victim” role in getting her way. I didn’t know her well, but my ex-wife filled me in on this later. It was her sister’s backup plan should I catch on to her outright hijacking of my home out from under me.

She had been talking up a storm about how awfully I treated her and the kids and was prepared to accuse me of something awful. If necessary, she was ready to call the police. Evidently, it was how they did things in La Junta where they’d lived.
Whatever it took to separate me from my house they were going to do.

And I thought I understood family dysfunction. This blew my experience out of the water.

While I initially bought into their tales of woe about my “abusive” ex-brother-in-law, the epiphany that came to me after being on the receiving end of my ex-sister-in-lawl’s BS cast doubt on everything she did and said. Her plan was to make sure I never returned to my old home again and, given how things transpired with all of that I never could anyway.

What for? To witness the shambles they’d likely turned the home I loved into, and with my own tools, no less? No thank you. The sister-in-law needn’t have bothered with her scheme for I wouldn’t have returned anyway. It was just something she loved to do.

The subsequent sense of unwelcoming I felt from them all in Brighton after moving to Denver created a rift between my-ex-wife and I that led me to believe our marriage was over.

Though we were still living together I was under the impression things were over and long before our divorce I made the break from her. It was about that time I began making trips in the Subaru into the mountains with Sophie, car camping on public land.

In short, I couldn’t have been and felt more displaced than I did then.

The Denver neighborhood was absolutely beautiful, with amazingly tall oaks that lined both sides of the street like enormous sentries standing guard. Home prices began in the mid-$700s. It was the first time since my bike racing days that I was again surrounded by successful guys my own age who, without knowing my true background, might well see me as a peer.

While it hadn’t the redneck element that Brighton did, I again played the role of social chameleon.

It was the first time I had pot in my life, which I got from a medical dispensary in Boulder, usually when I visited my previous psychotherapist there.

He was an old, salty guy, with a deep voice and proclivity toward using the f-word and referring to Obama as an n-word. He loved Sophie of course.

I remember how ballsy Sophie was to go there with me; his office had a typical Boulder eccentricity to it, and I think his office was a converted attic. The steps leading up to it were extremely steep, enough to give Sophie pause before descending. But she always did and I remember thinking that I’d be scared shitless if I had to do that and that I probably couldn’t.

One day I showed up to my appointment early and took Sophie for a quick walk around the block. Out behind the office, in his Jeep in the parking lot sat Tom Fiester. He had kind of a blank expression and didn’t even seem to notice we were even there.

I stepped up next to him and saw him smoking a cigar. He seemed surprised to see me, then told me how he sometimes liked to “enjoy a cigar” before his appointments.

After learning shortly thereafter that it was possible to catch a “pretty good buzz” from a cigar-according to another older acquaintance who knew what it meant to “enjoy a cigar” I never went to see Tom again.

To think that the person from whom I’d sought to work with to improve my own condition might have been high himself may have been a professional breach. But more important, to me it represented time that I could have better spent being high myself but out walking the neighborhood in Denver with Sophie.

I even remember driving to a business park near the Centennial Airport on some weekends to get high and walk around the nicely manicured but deserted office buildings.

I’d reminisce about my days at the Denver Tech Center from twenty years earlier, wondering how things might have worked out had I not been hospitalized with a blood clot.

Then one day a Homeland Security officer, replete in his official-looking uniform and an air of self-importance wanted to know why I’d been there over the previous few weeks.

Turns out during all the time I thought I’d spent lost in my own private contemplation I’d actually been watched by somebody, probably through binoculars. Though I was gracious about it-what else could I do?- it pissed me off nonetheless and I never went back.

Like my old Brighton neighborhood, it could never have been the same, so why bother?

But having pot was one of the only times since my bicycle accident that I could count on not being in pain and therefore free to let my thoughts roam. It was better than any therapy I’d yet known. Then again, I hadn’t yet wintered on a Mexican beach with half a dozen other Canadian and Coloradan expats.

My time in that pretty part of Denver was spent largely with only Sophie; Kami was always out, working on her real estate license. It was little more than a fog of being stoned, self-flagellation, and walking with Sophie through the neighborhood. In other words, all the things I could do to ease my pain and distract myself that I once got from my cycling.

Those were the only things I knew to do to assuage the pain I then felt to make myself, even if only temporarily, feel better.

I rejected my wife’s advances, which was nothing new. For me to look back upon my second ex-wife as anything but an angel only serves to make me feel more inner pain.

How to describe loving someone so much and so badly wanting to show it but, somehow and for some reason, be unable to do so? It was like a daily reminder of my inability to be a feeling, loving person.

It goes against everything I believe being human stands for. That means, by implication, that I see myself as less than human. Unfortunate, but true.

Equally unfortunate, is my knowledge that no amount of masturbation or time spent loving Sophie, or vaping pot or anything else could ever equal the total and utter endorphin high I got while cycling.

All I know from any of that is I’m still virile and what the hell good is that now anyway? I remember seeing one guy at the races who was apparently some young girl’s sugar daddy. He clearly wasn’t her father, though he was old enough to be dating a daughter’s friend.

Somehow it disgusted me to think this girl was being bought by this guy and that he felt more secure in his masculinity by having her there.

He technically took second place that day in the Men’s 60+ division, second only to one of my teammates who raced with us 45+ Men. The funny part is that my older teammate placed in our 45+ race but didn’t accept his 60+ trophy, too. He just loved the competition.

But the sugar daddy was so proud of himself for taking second, despite the race roster showing he was only one of two in that division.

Though I could never be that person I was happy for him nonetheless; it’s not as if pro contracts were on the line. We were just there to have fun, a sort of midlife whip-em-out-and-measure-em thing amongst guys our own age. We also knew that the “sugar daddy story” would one day become a point of humor among us.

It was in the same vein as the “Why are bikes better than women?” quip. But I no longer have teammates to share such jokes with. In fact, many of my old teammates no longer race, though some still do. I know that if I could, I’d still be among those hardcore teammates who still train and race out of our mutual passion for the sport.

Instead, I’m grasping at straws now. The few times I made it out on my mountain bike last year were special. They were the only time in years I have looked to the sky and felt unashamed to scream with joy and out of sheer pleasure.

But it wasn’t just the momentary joy I felt. It was also because I never again believed I’d feel anything even closely resembling the high I got on a bicycle.

This I achieved with only one arm on a mountain bike trail with several sections that were too technical for me to ride. But I was alone in the silent foothills above Ft Collins, and the fact that I was on a bicycle at all was, in itself, an accomplishment.
There was always hell to pay pain wise, so my little victories were short-lived. But it was better than nothing, and it helped me to cope when I saw other road cyclists on the roads near our home. In other words, a quick fix.

I remember a trivial statement from long ago regarding cocaine use and its effect on some users. It had been documented in some lab somewhere that, the anticipation of that first snort of cocaine led some users to spontaneously ejaculate upon so doing.

As a twenty-something young man I was used to the notion of ejaculation as being accomplished, excuse the pun, in only one of a handful of ways.

The idea then was as compelling as it was stimulating, and I remember wondering if one day I would ever find something in my life that might have a similar effect.

And though I haven’t been looking, I can’t say that I would ever have found such a thing anyway.

But, as an older man, I do respect the possible existence of something like that. However, I now know anything to have such an effect on a person to be dangerous, not desirable. I can’t imagine a substance having such power over me.

Ironically, the drugs I take daily for seizures and neuropathy leave me dizzy – but not pleasurably so – and my vision has been irreparably harmed by them.

Even squinting, I have trouble reading road signs. And laying in bed as I read from or write on my smartphone I must hold the phone at arms length so that the words are intelligible. If I don’t, the blurred words will blend together and completely alter the subject of the story.

It makes for some interesting reading because my mind is quite capable of combining word fragments to create unintended words, but it’s more frustrating than novelty. And it’s exhausting.

I know that words have always been my strongest point, more so than most people if the aptitude testing I had In my twenties just after college is any indication. I know from experience with others’ writing, which I’m unable to read without editing as I go that it’s true.

Mistakes abound everywhere, even in the best of newspapers, just as they probably do here in the eyes of readers who possess a similar aptitude.

Just recently I wrote a resume and cover letter package for one of the cab drivers I’ve gotten to know over the past few months. I’ve done the same for many others over the years.

For some reason, lack of self-worth, I guess, I’ve never taken money for the work I do, even though I may have helped many of them obtain interviews or get their foot in the door for some pretty lucrative positions.

I know this, of course, because I am the one who has taken their qualifications and made sense of them. Because of me, they looked very good on paper, or at least good enough to get a foot in the door.

That, in itself is of immeasurable value to anyone whose language is rooted in engineering or some technical language as opposed to plain English.

But this ability of mine, which I have largely denied myself the pleasure of exercising is a point of shame, too. With every article from the New York Times or the Washington Post or any of my online news sources I feel both immense respect for the writers who can pound out such great content and who make a living at it to boot, but also deep shame for not having fully exploited my own potential.

It wasn’t until the advent of blogging that I actually “put my work out there“ for others to read. Prior to that, I wrote ceaselessly on my laptop but, instead of sharing my work with anyone I kept everything saved on memory sticks which I still have somewhere.

I’ve written all my life but have never made a penny from it because I was too ashamed to risk being criticized for it. It’s been safest for me to withhold my writing, the only thing that has only brought relief and never pain, from anyone.

To do otherwise would be to risk being disillusioned forever as an adult. My greatest fear that yes, the world can be equally disdainful of me as my parents were as I was growing up would prove to be true.

In fact, the primary reason I graduated college at all was because of my literary writing classes. The degree requirements in math and science held no interest for me, save perhaps for the beer money I might get upon selling the textbook back at semester’s end. Therefore, I largely ignored the work involved and my transcript reflects this.

As someone who knows what a person looks like on paper I also know that anyone who sees my transcript wouldn’t see me as a very well-rounded person. Well, tough tittie.

Since I learned early on that the swift and violent retribution due to poor school report cards meant only pain, it further underscored my perceived inability and lack of desire to do even the most basic technical things. I do respect such abilities in others, however.

Ironically, many of those resumes I’ve written were done for people pursuing highly technical positions. After all, what kind of writer needs another writer to create their resume? A shitty one, that’s what.

I guess writing gets me high, too, which is why I have trouble stopping once I get started. So, The End.

Friday, February 23, 2018

February Snowstorm - An Unexpected Moment Of Peace

This afternoon, while reclining in the stateroom I made a phone call to tie up one final detail before the weekend. For some reason, the voice on the other end kept breaking up. It allowed me just enough signal on my end to hear them say the same of me: “What? You’re breaking up… Can you repeat that?”

Like an awkward bit of conversation with someone when, all of a sudden you’re both talking at the same time. So you politely stop to give the other person a chance to talk just as they do the same for you… and then you both begin talking again at the same time. Nothing was getting through at best. Except we weren’t picking the stops and starts ourselves.

Eventually both sides put the pieces of the story together and, relieved, hung up. The whole weird interaction left me wondering “What the hell? Why did this happen now? Must be the crappy reception here at the campground…”

Then it hit me- that happened once or twice before. So I glanced out the window and saw that the gray skies I’d seen hours earlier, pregnant with the promise of snow had let loose. It was snowing!

But it was a special kind of snow, the kind of snowfall that begins with small but steady flakes. And there was no wind to make it swirl around into budding snow drifts. It just fell straight and steady, and that’s what tipped me off to its specialness: It was the start of a big snowstorm and there was going to be a lot more snow coming.

I sat down in front of the window, transfixed. The weekend began right there, on the spot. For the rest of the afternoon the long playlist of classic rock music I’d created just for moments like this rolled on. I’d forgotten all about it, so I patted myself on the back for the stroke of genius from who knows how many years earlier.

Afternoon turned to dusk, then evening, then night fell. It was magical and, you know what? It still is. I’ve watched the bare ground slowly get covered by those first, fine flakes.

The storm picked up its pace, the flakes gradually became bigger and bigger until I swear they looked like chunks of powdered sugar. They still fell straight down, limiting my visibility to the nearest trees. Beyond that, it was anybody’s guess what was going on.

The bare, squishy spots were long gone, buried beneath snow that’d hide them for days. Overhead the pine branches and their spindly fingers became round, white orbs of vanilla frosting, the handiwork of the gracious Universe that has granted us this most unexpected, marvelous gift.

And the silent strength of the storm continues this very moment, spreading its peaceful energy everywhere I look.

It’s taken a lot for me to take the time to look away from this beautiful sight but I know my memory is faulty; I will forget this moment. It’s but one of many such times that Sophie and I have shared, from the Mexican beach right outside our door to the total silence of the high desert near South Park to one magic afternoon along a deserted section of rugged Pacific Coastline.

Each of those moments, and so many more were gifts granted to us, coincidental creations arranged just for us by some power so much greater. The only way to think of it is to not think about it and just enjoy the moment.

Wow, I mean Wow. Just this morning, as I contemplated the ceiling and hours before this afternoon’s storm graced our lives I reflected at length on the many wonderful experiences Sophie and I have lived from the confines of this RV. Too many to remember, that’s for sure.

But one thing’s certain: There’s no place I’d rather be than here, happily living out my life in tandem with the most beautiful girl doggie that ever lived. And we’ve shared it all the only way we do anything - together.

Earlier, when the storm began, I opened the door so she could see those first flakes falling. I knew she and I were thinking the same thing- tomorrow’s going to be an absolute joy.

Snowfalls like this one are transformative for her. They take years off of Sophie’s age and she suddenly becomes a puppy again. She just can’t help herself, running full tilt out of sheer joy, scooping up snow as she runs. And when she runs in my direction her big broad smile is plainly visible and I can’t help but laugh with her.

What more is there to life? I ask. Living in the moment with a furry little being who has elevated the concept of living in the moment to an art form is all I can think about now… in the moment, where all good things belong.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Happy Anniversary Again, Mr. Moreno. Love, the US Government

“Never do anything to help the police.“
  -George Carlin

My use of the blanket descriptor “law enforcement” includes most any inappropriately titled “peace officer” who wears a badge, handcuffs, pepper spray and a gun.

Never mind the attitude, good or bad, the officer carries; they are trained in the use of lethal force if need be. If you happen to be or do or say anything they take as wrong, you just may be the only reason they need.

Sophie, my beautiful sweet soul of a service dog and I know this firsthand. Despite her years of love and loyal partnership, she has also been there to shield me from any harm should I unexpectedly seize.

And while my seizures are never something I expect, Sophie somehow knows it in advance. I know this because she is trained to rouse me from seizures, even the mildest of them. It’s such times I’ve seen her at work, and with no consideration for her own safety; it’s her job, and she’s glad to do it.

So it was an unimaginable moment when, with no witnesses present we were cruelly and violently the target of a young, trigger happy law enforcement officer one year ago.

Sophie was pepper sprayed and I was beat up and, still in shock, we were both separated held culpable for the officer’s actions. Our separation, the first ever in nine years lingered for a week without knowing the condition of the other.

The brave young officer who afterward spoke as if he were David and I his newly-conquered Goliath hadn’t justice in mind when he hurt us. His motive, like that of a rapist, was about nothing more than power.

I rarely feel anger over the subject, for what is done is done. But on the one year anniversary of our ordeal, my heart still hurts and my mind is still confused and frustrated over what happened.

This is the perspective I’m coming from in writing this today:

Law enforcement means park rangers where Sophie and I have stayed in my RV. From the Arizona park ranger who hurt us to the county park rangers where Sophie and I have set up camp, they all qualify.

Their MO in enforcing the laws, rules, regulations and what have you is the same everywhere. And that one intangible- their timing in so doing- I can only attribute to the work of the devil.

This week, for instance, I unknowingly broke a rule that said I couldn’t camp more than two weeks at a county campground in one month. It was an honest mistake. And this as we approached the anniversary of our Arizona ordeal. The devil’s own handiwork.

This regulation is not written anywhere yet all campers are expected to comply. Even a park ranger later told me “We don’t yet have any way to enforce it, but…” I rightly figured the end of his sentence was “but I can and will if I feel like it.”

In keeping with the lousy timing of the whole situation, which should have been-and I thought would be- a big nothingburger, things somehow digressed further still.

At our campsite two bad things happened in quick succession: After approaching a park ranger I asked if he’d be good enough to drive us to the park office 3 miles away so I could pay our first night’s fee.

I knew it was a long shot and didn’t like the idea of getting into an SUV emblazoned with a Park Ranger logo. But I liked the idea of driving the motorhome down-then back up- the steep hill to the office even less. As it went, things were fated to go downhill anyway.

Realistically, I expected the ranger to say “No,” but then offer a good alternative. To my surprise, he said “I can take you but there won’t be room for your dog.”

He was a nice enough younger guy who looks like the prototype of the ideal law enforcement officer. All the park rangers here are nice. But each of them are also deputized county cops.

That means that they carry a gun and pepper spray and wear their handy-dandy radio mikes clipped neatly on their uniform sleeve, right next to their mouth so they can call in backup after apprehending someone without having to take their hands off them.

For the entire past year, Sophie and I lived across from another county campground. In summer their marked “park ranger” suvs are a common sight. And every single ranger that Sophie and I met had been friendly and largely receptive to us.

Still, I remained scared at the sight of them and, upon seeing one coming my first instinct was to run and hide. In the back of my mind I knew that they’ve only got jurisdiction over the park and county roads.

But on private land, like the kind Sophie and I lived on then, I’d be safe. Never mind that I was not committing any crime and had every right to be there. Yet my fight or flight kicked in before I could rationalize and my heart would skip a beat. I felt afraid.

Without realizing it at first I mentally created escape routes from anyplace in the park where Sophie and I might be walking. From just about anywhere I could quickly lead us to “safety.” It was months before I’d realized I’d been doing but, once I saw it I understood.

In visiting our new campsite I hadn’t intended to see any of the rangers. But in the absence of a self-serve pay station it became inevitable. It’s probably why I preemptively approached the ranger to begin with for help; for better or worse I couldn’t stand the idea of not knowing what bad things might happen if they were to come to us first. I just wanted to get it out of the way.

When I told the friendly ranger that Sophie was my service dog and that I can’t travel without her he suddenly changed. Though it shouldn’t have surprised me he suddenly assumed a physically defensive posture, which I read as nonverbal way of saying that “This one might be trouble.”

He took half a step back, put one hand on his hips and with the other lowered his sunglasses. He presumably didn’t want his eyes to betray something deeper he was thinking: Maybe he thought I was faking limb loss and actually packing heat underneath my jacket, so he wanted to draw first. Who knows?

He’s undoubtedly had to draw his weapon before but I’m not stupid; we were standing in the shade. Plus I spent several minutes in plain view of their one-way office windows so they could see us. I had Sophie sit next to me and gave her some hand commands. Just like in Arizona.

That’s when I realized that I’ve no way of ever preventing what happened there again anywhere else. Since our assault last year I’ve maintained I’d be too afraid to travel south again. But our Arizona experience realistically applies to anyplace and this seemingly friendly man’s response to us is proof.

Sophie is my only family and indeed my best friend. We’ve gone everywhere and done everything together for years and are inseparable.

So last year after the cop who beat us up in the Arizona desert charged me with assault I said “Sure I’m guilty” to whatever the biased judge said. Sophie and I both deserved better than to endure one more day apart for some travesty of so-called justice. For a week I went without eating, sleeping, medication and Sophie.

But to Sophie, wherever she was it must’ve seemed like forever. I was determined to find her, wherever she was and comfort her for a change. If that meant lying in court and pleading guilty to something I could never do, so be it.

So now I’m a one-armed pot bellied violent criminal or offender or whatever their term for me is. And my arthritic Sophie to them is my white-fanged accomplice who’s long overdue to be euthanized for the safety of the general public.

So I imagine that it could be anytime I may approached by cops who’ve radioed for backup and weapons drawn. It could be walking her without a leash, a burned out brake light or turn signal or just some odd profiling. Only the devil knows for sure.

But one thing I do know for sure: If probation lady Lisa Pence still sees Sophie as dangerous and me as an irresponsible pet owner - and not as an accomplished service dog and handler team who have trained hard to get where we are today, federal law enforcement itself is egregiously guilty of breaking one of its own laws.

Further, I can thus expect her- and her colleagues - constant take on me to be based on some fictional police report. “You must’ve done something wrong if the officer had to taser you” she once told me, and that Sophie still belongs on a leash.

It tells me that law enforcement is every bit as ignorant and unwilling to acknowledge my rights as a service dog handler or as a person in general. Able-bodied or otherwise, what that officer did to us was criminal and it could just as well be you next. Or Sophie and I again. One need only look to the devil to know for sure.

Since Sophie and I continue to travel alone, I’m painfully aware that we remain an easy target still.

Back to the campground:

On the afternoon of our second day, as I lay in my bunk easing some increasing humidity-related neuropathy I suddenly glimpsed a face quickly peeking in my window and then heard a knock at my door.

Two smiling rangers stood outside, both of whom were quite pleasant. But I was already taken aback: The initial shock of being roused by a face, then a knock, and then the sight of two uniformed ranger/cops right outside my door in this otherwise tranquil and pretty place had terrified me.

I was instantly back in my “Don’t show fear or things will get worse” mode I learned as a kid with my father. For a moment I felt trapped in my own home.

What I momentarily saw in them they would likely have never guessed. But, this being the anniversary I’m surprisingly open to suggestion: Even though those rangers smiled at me I instead saw them as backup for each other, each one able to back up the other’s story in court, and blah blah blah.

It’s a byproduct of my having to plead guilty to an assault that was committed on me by a criminal law enforcement officer. It’s like having that terrible experience constantly re-litigated, always with the same terrible result.

The male ranger introduced himself and magnanimously proclaimed that they were going to “let me stay this time” at the campsite I’d already paid for online because it’s the slow season” and I wasn’t causing any trouble.

Then he reiterated chapter and verse their rules about camping duration and how I ran afoul of them. As if I was going to return?

But that’s why I agree with George Carlin; I’d no intention of returning to their campground now that I learned their goddamned rule that I didn’t have the sense to divine on my own.

To them I’m somehow an anarchistic asshole to whom they’ll one day smugly say “We informed you of that rule once, Sir. You’re going to have to leave.”

That ranger morphed into a cop the moment it became clear to me that he, as the superior officer felt he needed to make sure he was right about something and that I was wrong and that he had all the power and I had none.

It was the same cute little act I got once from a traffic cop in Denver for failing to use my left turn signal in getting out of his way. Never mind why I did it-the cop was wrong and he knew it and my missing left arm did little to help his case,

I suspect he hoped my car was stolen or that I had a warrant out for my arrest so he could save face with the pretty little officer trainee traveling with him.

She stood in my blind spot, presumably to keep an eye on me and be sure I wasn’t smoking crack or getting ready to make a run for it. Sophie just sat on the drop-down rear seat of our Outback, a little peeved at the disruption and even snoring occasionally.

Ironically, I was on my way back from the MMJ dispensary and had a few syringes of the best, most effective anti neuropathy and anticonvulsant medicine I’ve found.

But (thank God) it’s legal, I don’t look like a hophead or a crack addict or whatever because I’m not. It sure would have felt good to that cop to have had a chance to search my car, though.

He cited me anyway: A hundred and fifty bucks but no points on my driving record, aka “vehicular probation.” Prick.

Sophie and I are not now and never have been a danger to anyone. Yet my overly trusting and naïve side has swung completely in the other direction; I don’t trust anyone any longer and now I just try to avoid people - out of fear and not selectively and by choice, like most people do and how I once did.

I wrote to my disability advocate in Denver about my concerns that last February could happen again anytime, that cops are no more understanding than ever. Looking back, I don’t know what the hell I expected to happen.

People don’t know what they don’t know and aren’t inclined to want to learn anything new. And since cops think they know everything already, they don’t see the need to ever change. Kudos again to George Carlin. Nobody likes a know it all, especially another know it all.

My advocate, also a service dog handler empathized. She said we have enough to worry about without having to deal with being hassled and that she’ll write a letter for me to show to anyone who hassles me about Sophie and I, including/especially cops.

But I realize that still will involve a confrontation with someone and that’s what I want to avoid. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to avoid; I’ve had enough conflict for one lifetime. But it’s not up to me.

I expect nothing less from anyone with a badge and a gun, some of whom are rabid, prey-driven dogs with a nose for weakness and the firm belief in survival of the fittest.

And some are slick, so slick that you don’t recognize them for their sheep’s clothing. By then it’s too late; you’ve already been chewed up, spit out and incarcerated. Law enforcement my ass.

You can try to tell me I don’t have the right to have my Sophie on a leash and that you and every other psychotic asshole has the second amendment right to own a gun.

But no matter how much you’d like me to shut up and not expose you for the frauds some of you are, I have the first amendment right to speak up for myself, here or anywhere in the USA. But you’ve already got that covered, right?

Sure enough, it’s the albatross around the neck of every criminal except for Donald Truck*: Credibility.

*Truck can say the moon is made of green cheese and that we should privatize the space program to prove it - so some of his cronies can benefit and cabinet members can fly first class- and President Truck will become a two-term free-flowing sperm president.

According to the probation lady, within a few weeks there is some final paperwork that will come in the mail. Hopefully it will make it to my new address, though who knows what the return address will say.

US Federal Police Department? Violent Offender Unit? Federally Mandated Piece of S*** Hunters? Federal Bad Guy Catchers? No matter how they put it, those words can likely set a negative tone on my new living situation.

One of the questions on their damned monthly probation forms-that didn’t apply to me but still indicates their need to keep their nose in my business - was “Does your employer know about your criminal record?”

It gets deeper and deeper and I think that’s the idea. Such a cleverly planned setup the little turd in Arizona was able to manufacture, up to and including a report about my being “violent and verbally abusive” at the animal shelter when I picked up Sophie one year ago.

What? The only violence I might have perpetrated was how I couldn’t stop myself from hugging and squeezing her and telling her how much I love her.

The sewer these people inhabit only runs deeper and deeper. Why were Sophie and I beat up then charged with a crime in the first place? Simply because I said that I have a legal right to not have Sophie on a leash nor can I be ticketed for that because it’s not a crime to be disabled.

How the hell would anybody feel in my shoes after what I went through for speaking up for myself, especially to someone I believed I should’ve been able to trust? George Carlin, I second the motion and rest my case.

Deeper and deeper it gets still. The only thing I’m sure of is that it all drastically lowers Sophie’s and my quality of life. Now if only the government can also find a way to eliminate my disability benefits...

Monday, February 12, 2018

If No Is Not Enough Then What Is?

I’ve been plagued by some sort of creeping malaise for the last few weeks, or maybe it’s been months, hard to tell. It’s no way to begin a post, I know, but I don’t want to come across as vague or scatterbrained. I’m just under what, for me, is an unusual amount of stress.

Things will be more settled in about a month or so, after I relocate and move on to greener pastures. It’s brown and dry and dead-ish here.

My current neighbors -the riff raff- are prepping for another warm season and summer full of partying that I’d rather not be around for. It’s been a mild winter and, only nearing January’s end, there are still late night antics that could erupt into full-blown screaming matches (again).

Plus there’s just some downright weird stuff happening, too. Case in point: The 21-year-old girl who moved in with her father next door about five months into my “tenure” here has apparently taken to sleeping in her car after a late night of partying.

I saw her at around 4 a.m. this morning when I let Sophie out for her nightly visit to the DWP (the doggie whiz palace). It’s also the time I typically step outside-in my undergucci’s- for some fresh air, a look at the stars and to watch Sophie’s back while she’s in the bushes attending to other things. Imagine my surprise when I happened to see little eyes-hers-peeking out at me from behind the steering wheel.

Good thing I hadn’t decided to take a leak under the stars, though I don’t think she’s the type who’d care. I’d care, though.

I often hear coyotes howling nearby and the neighbors tell me a very brazen mountain lion has taken to wandering our streets. But, in my undershorts I realized the lion wasn’t what was afoot.

I don’t know if I was seen out there but I figure if someone’s going to take up temporary residence in their car, especially around here, they should expect to at least see an amputee in his underwear staring up at the sky with half a mind to whip it out and join his dog, who’s happily peeing in the middle of the road. Around here, that’s not as weird as it sounds, for I’ve seen much worse. And at least I’m willing to admit I’m part of the weirdness here.

At around seven, when the father leaves for whatever place he’s gone at seven o’clock every day for the past year, she turns off her car, slithers into the trailer, then lets out her whiny dog to piss on my tire, and that’s that.

The weird father/daughter dynamic has -and likely will- blow up again anytime. Thank god they’ve taken to avoiding each other. I feel sorry for the doggie, though, stuck with those two like that.

I’ve had a ringside seat to all their screaming, crying, doors slamming, the whole bit. Then the next time I happen to see my neighbor, who I now refer to as the Father of the Year, he has a hang-dog look on his face and a smug comment for me, as if I was the one responsible for all the noise the night before.

So I’ve understandably taken to avoiding them both, for Sophie and I are great neighbors. Here, genuine friendliness is taken as a sign of weakness, and therefore an easy target for others’ crap.

But Sophie and I don’t deserve that, which is why I’ve been making plans for us to leave here. Clearly everyone is too close for comfort here and, all things considered, the community probably does very well for itself.

But fist fights have broken out here a few times and it’s not a stretch to imagine some of my neighbors packing heat. Add some liquor into the mix and you’ve got yourself a good ol’ fashioned, down-home Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

Booze, gunshots, lifeless bodies out in the street, self-inflicted gunshot wounds and lifetime prison sentences, and high-speed pursuit car chases. It’s all there and it’s exhausting just to think about. And to think I used to like that music. Ah, the naïveté of youth.

Anyway, it’s a fact that I’ve felt dizzy and been stumbling more often lately and, as an upper limb amputee that says a lot. Sometimes I swear that dizziness and clumsiness define me more than anything else. It doesn’t help that I spend much of my time either sitting down to eat, lying down to overeat, or standing up to cook.

No wonder I’m so goddamned overweight and under-exercised. And poor Sophie’s stuck with my sloth-like existence. If only I’d bought a smaller RV Sophie and I would spend a hell of a lot more time outside exercising and less time snoozing.

It’d go a long way toward getting me through a dark energy I’ve perceived since the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. You know what I’m talking about. Ever since, I’ve perceived something far more insidious working on me, deep down inside.

Call it a profound sense of injustice that someone who so closely resembles my childhood antagonist and the man I’ve struggled so hard to not become was somehow elevated to the status of Most Powerful Man in the World. Really?

Though I thought I’d survived all that, suddenly the sneering visage of my old man is everywhere. The president’s usual, bitter expression is one my father typically referred to as “shit eating” and I suppose he would know. It is, after all, the very same expression he always wore, too.

Anyway, this overall brain fog I sometimes feel has affected my cognitive skills, to a point where I’ve had some good thoughts worth putting down in writing but haven’t bothered out of concern for the emotional cost it could bring.

What would be the point? No matter how well I might express myself, Donald Trump would still be president when I finish and I’d feel like I was back to Square One again.

It’s like a black cloud, always hovering over my every deed and my thoughts. In keeping with the old saw to “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer” I’ve found it best to fully immerse myself in Trump’s daily activities. And for good reason; turn your back and he just might getcha. It’s happened many times before, decades ago, and has never ended well for me.

On top of that, I’ve experienced an uptick in neuro aberrations, mostly as absence seizures and headaches. My sleep schedule is way off kilter and all these are linked, I’m sure. Trump’s presence in my life is a key part of this.

To many, Trump’s antics and buffoonery, his what-will-he-do-next novelty has made an unprecedented satire of American politics.

To others it’s a shining example of materialism interjected by hook and by crook into the system “gone rogue” and “run amok.” It’s even laughable at times.

To others still, Trump is no joke. I am among them and, in this I’m in good company. I/we don’t like to talk about this feeling and I/we certainly don’t want to be confronted with it every day.

So deep and so private are our feelings that they’re not readily found on message boards and online special interest groups. None of us want to talk about it any more than necessary; it’s all around us as it is.

Many Americans and world citizens too, have become somewhat inured to Trump’s antics. But for me and for many who share my perspective the shock value is never lost. In our experience, nothing is sacred and anything is possible.

One thing is clear: Turning my back on Trump isn’t an option any more than it would be to turn my back on traffic approaching behind me as I ride my bicycle. It’s a particularly uneasy feeling.

We all sometimes feel this and have developed effective means of dealing with it. My solution is to keep a close eye on that rear view mirror.

The sight of Trump’s snarling face and the gravelly, demanding tone of Trump’s voice inspires something in me that’s primal and visceral. I can sometimes just feel it, shouting for my attention, and I know I’m not the only one.

Long before Trump’s election into office I saw him for what he is: A shameless liar with an innate ability to smile as if everything’s fine when in fact things are only “fine” when they are good for him.

Anything less brings out the eyes bulging, neck veins popping tyrant that is always lurking just beneath the surface. But like the Wizard of Oz, all that bluster serves as mere cover for the cowardly and frightened little man he truly is.

The world at large never sees this however. Allowing it would only open up the possibility to future losses, an unthinkable idea. So it comes out behind closed doors.

Sadly, for those among us who remember how such a cowardly tyrant once ruled our lives his voice once again rings in our ears. A “trigger,” therapists call it, one that must be “processed” and then “mastered” so that, when the time comes it’s something that can be “handled.”

But Trump’s is a voice that won’t be ignored, one that I can’t bear to hear yet one I don’t dare turn my back on. Ironically, prior to his visible entry in the 2015 primaries Trump didn’t even exist for me.

But as his chances of receiving his party’s nomination increased, so too, did his presence in my life.

“America,” I remember thinking “is too progressive to elect another rich white guy president now., especially a loudmouth like this guy.”

After electing our first black president in ‘08 the first female president must come next. But the rich guy somehow eked out the win.

Suddenly, something I thought I’d left behind decades ago re-emerged as if it had never left. Memories of terrible emotional pain once again stirred in my soul, despite my belief I’d left it in the past. I’d barely survived it the first time; I didn’t know if I’d survive it again.

It was heartbreaking for me to realize how quickly and deftly I adopted the survival mode of my youth. But the reason for it seems obvious now: for better or worse we simply cannot unlearn those things that allowed us to cope, even survive, long ago.

I hope this message is clear but, if not, that’s okay. Airing my general political grievances as I’ve done here is always enjoyable and relieving. Writing it down helps me melt that brain fog and restore some clarity upstairs and, I’d like to think, makes me smarter. No, really.

I don’t believe anyone confronted with an abusive person behind closed doors should have to suffer in silence. Maybe, in reading my words you’ll not feel so alone, because you aren’t.

Everyone needs a lifeline at times, and sometimes it’s enough just to hear another’s story. Maybe one day you’ll share yours with me and it’ll be just what I need to hear. For now, though you’ll always be able to find me here.

The Heart Is What Matters Most

My heart has grown a thousand times in size over the years and I’m only just recently realizing how great - albeit slow -that progression has been. Maybe this feeling is what’s thought of as wisdom that “comes with age.”

Implicit in this statement, though, is advanced age. Yet with each passing day everyone ages and, therefore we all acquire wisdom that comes with age.

Here, though I’m not speaking of the “bees, while pretty, hurt when they sting so they’re best left alone” sort of wisdom. Or (my favorite) “Stay out of the bushes where poison ivy might grow, especially if you’re wearing shorts.”

That one carries a special lesson for me and, if I knew you better I’d share. But, like wisdom that comes with age I’ve learned not to share that story with just anyone.

While all that is technically wisdom that comes with age, here I actually am referring to the sort that comes with advanced age.

For a long, long time I fought the awful feeling that came with people referring to me as “Sir.” If the saying that “you’re only as old as you feel” is true then hearing someone, anyone calling me “Sir” left me feeling ancient.

Never mind the fact that I, on the other hand, constantly began to get the impression that suddenly almost everyone I’d once considered “adults” or “mature” or simply “older” now looked like children to me.

Parents, politicians and policemen, pilots and priests, professors and presidential primary contenders. They all looked too young to be doing whatever it was they did and now they had the audacity to call me “Sir?”

What the hell happened? Why didn’t I see this coming? And, most important to me “If everyone who calls me “Sir” looks this young to me then how damned old must I look to the world?” Of course this isn’t a question I can answer myself.

So lately, if I find myself in the midst of a bout of insecurity I may come right out and ask a trusted person “Do I look old to you?” Not that I expect them to say “Hell, yes, you sure do!” Instead, they placate me and say wonderful things such as “Why, no, you look great!”

That willingness to not so much lie but to stretch the truth in my favor is how I define a “trusted person” today.

But Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, a text about how a person’s psychological history can be interpreted by observing their physical condition over a lifetime would have a field day with me.

My arms and legs are covered with scars, some of them quite recent. Walking through the house in the dark, en route to the bathroom at 3 a.m. qualifies as activity that carries a strong potential for physical injury So does stepping out into the snow in flip-flops to pick up after Sophie. Good thing I love her so much.

Anyway, the world’s best tightrope walker would be hard pressed to avoid tripping over all the obstacles in my home, including Sophie and her vast selection of toys. Again, it’s a good thing I love her so much.

Sadly, I don’t always succeed in avoiding squashing Sophie’s paws or her tail, so it’s a good thing she loves me muchly, too.

The bottom line is that I’m so chronically off-balance from being overweight and under-exercised that I must concede that van der Kolk is right; I’m no longer at home inside my own body.

It’s to the point where I’ve embraced occasional trips to Walmart without feeling self-conscious.

There, I’m surrounded by others who are also out of touch with their own bodies and unhappy in their own skin.

This sounds terrible I know, but I believe that most Walmart customers are mental and physical duds. So I admit that, in going there I feel better about myself because at least I’m not one of them. Well I hope I’m not.

But back in my bicycle racing and triathlon days I was probably no less condescending. It’s just that I’d take my superior attitude to a Whole Foods or GNC store. In fact, I’d basically walk around everywhere with my game face on. I’ve always held dear my physical appearance and well-being, even to the point of arrogance.

It speaks volumes about me and my sense of place in the world, and why I have trouble believing that anyone would think of me as “Sir.” While I never did like to be called “dude” or “bud,” I realize now it’s preferable to “Sir.”

It’s probably not a surprise then that part of what hid the creeping burden of age - or allowed me to ignore it - was cloaked in the views of my old bicycle racing teammates, all of whom are within five to ten years my own age.

If I thought the term “dude” really had no place in spoken English amongst young guys then I felt even more so about middle-aged guys using that term. Of course they compounded that feeling by following it up with that curious, nonverbal display of machismo, the fist-bump.

Who the hell thought this stuff up? And where the hell was I when it was happening? I was probably alone on my time trial bike on some lonely country road in the middle of nowhere, lost in contemplation and drowned in meditation.

Still, I rightly considered myself an athlete and a sports fan, just not of the NBA, NFL, MLB or MLS variety. But I could have told you who the top multisport athletes were and what I imagined those fit women to be like in bed.

Like I said, I trained on lonely roads and such thoughts kept my mind occupied. It sure beat the hell out of watching some high-paid, sweaty jocks fist-bumping each other in the end zone.

The first time one of my bike teammates called me “dude” was a shock, to the point where whatever he was saying was lost on me.

My head was suddenly flooded with a thousand thoughts, like “I hope he’s not talking to me,” and “I wonder where he picked that up-maybe he thinks using his kid’s terms makes him seem the ‘cool dad.’” Who knows?

What was infinitely worse for me was the realization that, for me to respond to “dude” was to make me complicit with what I saw as his odd use of an Old West cowboy term, as in Dude Ranch. Hell, I’d rather be called “cowboy.”

I was a grown man wearing colorful, tight short pants that matched a dozen other men on overpriced bicycles. To the untrained eye, we were a bunch of pretty boys. We nanced around in cleated cycling shoes not meant for walking and were somewhat snotty about it, too. It wouldn’t have surprised me to know that bystanders might see us as prepping for a gay pride celebration.

And though we were proud we were not gay (or at least the gay alter egos among us were not visible) and I guess that’s where the fist-bumping and use of the word “dude” came in.

Though those things were probably intended to offset the apparent, inherent gay-ness in an otherwise macho, mano-a-mano sport actually made things more effeminate.

But I think my teammates would agree with me that the real measure of manhood is a willingness to accept anyone, regardless of sexual or religious or political preference or any other differences relative to their own.

Now that’s what I think of as wisdom that comes with age, likely to be a fine influence on the younger, impetuous dudes on the team.

And in keeping with that idea of tolerance for others I eventually got used to hearing the term “dude” among my counterparts, though I could never bring myself to use the term. Nobody ever judged me for it, if they noticed at all.

As a time trial specialist used to racing alone on the course and against the clock, not elbow to elbow against other dudes, the demanding mental aspects of the discipline dominated.

There was never any room for doubt and thinking of yourself in the most absolutely powerful terms was encouraged and accepted. Perhaps it’s a big part of my grocery store arrogance, I don’t know.

But, as long as it never hurt anyone it was innocent enough, and I terribly miss that sense of overconfidence, for it drove me in a way I’ve not known since my bicycle accident with a car in 2012.

Despite the crash, though, the reality of age was the wolf lurking at the door and, no matter how many times a grown man says “dude” that reality must eventually assert itself. And that’s the difference between my old teammates and I.

Chances are, many of them no longer race, choosing instead to bask in the glow of grandfatherhood or just past glories.

Some still might invest the time and energy in training and prepping for weekend events as they always have.

These, I think, are probably the sprinters and the multi sport athletes on the team. The sprinters, with their slight, sleek physiques will always excel at cycling and are justifiably unwilling to give up the sport without a fight.

One of my team’s strongest sprinters was hands down the heaviest user of the term “dude.” He was a great team leader and a guy who clearly asserted his leadership upon every teammate. But the effects of time on our bodies sooner or later asserts itself; no one gets out alive.

This whole process of aging is an insidious one, I think because it takes so many forms over the years. As kids, our age is fairly easy to interpret because our bodies grow so quickly, often too quick for our brains to keep up. As such, we don’t notice the wisdom that comes with youth.

Just becoming aware that you are regularly outgrowing your shoes or shirts or undershorts is not, in itself, wisdom. That’s why we might still trip over our untied shoelaces, or have a favorite baseball glove that is clearly too small for my hand, like my blue one.

It’s presence in my thoughts is validation enough that, yes, I was young once and that chance to recount some of my past allows me to finally gain some of the wisdom that was always there, waiting to be discovered.

The saying that “The wisdom of youth is wasted on the young” may be true. But, to an older man-like me-who’s willing to review some of his youth through more mature lenses, that wisdom is not lost.

Having that sense of past is like having pieces of a puzzle come together more completely than ever imaginable. But once that puzzle becomes more complete, past occurrences take on greater meaning and relevance to me.

Hence, I get more of the “older person’s” version of the “wisdom that comes with age” reference. It’s as if I’m living the polar opposite of my childhood mental and physical development.

That is, except perhaps for my waistline my body has long since stopped growing. Not long ago my shirts and my pants fit tightly because of the muscle mass I’d developed over a lifetime of physical activity and active endurance training.

My brain, however now provides me with interesting new contexts for some long-held perspectives I once took for gospel. I believe everyone’s brain has this ability if a person can, or is committed, to appreciate it.

In my view, “old” movies and stories and past interactions take on more meaning. Those changes tend to be negligible, which is exactly what makes the really profound changes more noteworthy.

In a sense, wisdom can be considered the sum total of our learning from our cumulative life lessons. But it’s only of value to us if we can recognize it for what it is.

Frankly, the How is not as important as the When, and the sooner we can glean a little wisdom out of our lives the sooner we can also share it with others.

Wisdom that is left unshared with others is of little value to the world, even if it’s only reinforcement of an idea that was revealed long ago. After all, the things we do today, right or wrong, will validate how and what we’ve done in the past.

It’s a prime reason that I rarely go back to read any of my old writing from the handful of memory sticks it’s been saved on.

But that would take months of self-indulgent reading and undoubtedly editing stories about cycling or work or other things that occurred in another life.

Leaving those words behind and looking ahead, it seems, is the wisest thing to do. So count me in, dude.

Monday, February 5, 2018

2017 - The Year In Review

It’s been a busy few days and it wasn’t until this morning I decided to make some notes I’d planned to write since last February’s ordeal. If nothing else I thought doing so might be healing, for that’s how things tend to go when I commit my thoughts to writing.

I also thought it’d be interesting to review my thoughts on the upcoming conclusion of the unusually-named “supervised release,”* a vestige of the weird legal side of last February’s experience.

It’s felt like a nagging discomfort, on the level one might feel when stepping into a puddle with only one foot. One shoe remains dry and fine. But the wet shoe, with foot firmly ensconced within its wet and clammy sarcophagus feels very different. And, though you know your sock and shoe will eventually dry, chances are that, unless you squeak when you walk no one will know about it but you.

It’s an idiotic metaphor to be sure but it’s after midnight and I’m low on ideas. A snowy stormfront rolled in this afternoon to redefine my notion of “excruciating” and, though my body only slightly smarts now my brain is burnished (see what I mean?). Anyway what metaphor would be appropriate then? Living with only one arm? That’d be fine I’m sure, but what the hell would I know about that?

2017 brought little of anything new into my and Sophie’s lives together.** In the absence of something highly memorable, past years seem little different from each other.

What I’m realizing though is that I’ve been working through so much past trauma that my emotional recovery from last February blends right in with everything else. Inwardly it’s been great, though outwardly things seem largely uneventful. Still waters run deep, right?

Overall, 2017 was a humdrum, unremarkable year punctuated by the usual bouts of nerve pain, comfort food binges and spectacular doggie walks.

Here at Horsetooth, Sophie and I have lived by necessity, not by design. Still, it’s not an accident that we’re in Ft Collins. We like this town and we even have some history here together. I first lived here in 1993, and Sophie and I visited in 2016. Her memory of the reservoir sold her on making this place our new home in January, 2017, while we were still in Mexico.

My thoughts here aren’t intended to demean the process of contrition that “supervised release”* is meant to engender, nor to demean the “probation lady” who, I think largely considers me to be just one person on her fairly heavy caseload. All things considered, she’s a pleasant enough person and, though I usually like to be thought of as special, in this case I can live without that distinction.

In general, very little has changed. As usual, Sophie and I have made many friends here in the hills surrounding our new home. We’ve enjoyed our stay here in this beautiful, quiet area and each day has brought us something new to smile about.

Sunrises and sunsets, deer, foxes, horses, snakes, bald eagles, mountain bikers and so many other wild animals are found here. No bears or badgers yet and thankfully only one close encounter of the third kind with a skunk.

It’s fair to say that the great Colorado outdoors is what’s inspired me most in 2017, and that’s been true for the two-plus decades I’ve lived here. But 2017 was special in one major way:

For the first time in over six years I got to know the passage of the seasons from the vantage point of a bike saddle.

I embraced mountain biking again, out on the open trails, where I felt the rush of adrenaline and the sheer joy of being on a bicycle again for the first time in years.

Back at home Sophie would lie on the cement pad in the sunshine out front of the RV until I returned. One hour, two hours, whatever. She never seemed to have moved a muscle from the last moment I saw her until the moment I returned.

And often, out on the trail, I thought back to years past when she’d be out there, running beside me as I rode that very bike. We were both in the physical prime of our lives and it felt spectacular.

Those rides from 2017 are something I’ll always remember but, sadly, most days were different.

Sophie and I endured living elbow-to-elbow with neighbors in a campground community. Under the best of such circumstances I believe the potential for conflict can always exist.

But in a hard-drinking environment, relatively far from the watchful eye of the Big Brother city police and with no on-site management, things could-and did-escalate between neighbors from time to time. The natives often got restless. And it was an education for me.

I’d never seen a battered woman before, let alone known where she lived and who likely beat her. Her face was barely recognizable, but what struck me most was how willing she was to offer excuses for what happened-though all I said to her was “Hi.” What could I say to someone like that?

Late one night I heard a pair of drunk grown men come to blows over some petty difference they’d been bandying about all night. It was a still night and I could hear them clearly though they were down the hill from our spot. I heard it all and waited for it to erupt. Then it nearly happened a second time; one of the actors sounded familiar; it was my neighbor from just up the hill. His wife or girlfriend or whatever dragged his drunken carcass home.

I also regularly heard, er, I couldn’t not hear language so laced with profanity that it felt as if English was the Second Language. But it was the native tongue.

And, the pièce de resistance, the night our next-door neighbor cussed out his live-at-home 21 year old daughter who’d come to live with him only a few months before. She promptly shot out the front door, sobbing like a little girl who just had her first teenage breakup.

It happened after midnight (of course) and the puppy they recently brought home became a ready target for the man’s cussing.

Given our proximity I’m not surprised we saw and heard this weird menagerie in action. But my love of animals-and disdain for people who hurt them or otherwise interfere with their well-being left me with little respect for him.

I’d been a good, supportive neighbor but I also had to be the bigger person too many times. It became best to just avoid him. But I never felt good about it.

At such times, and so many others I’d apologize to Sophie for bringing her into a place that could definitely show some of the best of the worst behavior people are capable of perpetrating on each other.

Sophie’s a beautiful and ladylike doggie who may also be tough as nails. But she’s more than earned a peaceful life in a peaceable community surrounded by people who can’t help but love on her.

None of our former neighbors, despite their apparent respect for our service dog/handler relationship were capable of seeing Sophie for the beautiful being she is. But Sophie accepted them all the same.

Perhaps it’s because Sophie’s both so much better behaved and stable, strong yet nonviolent, and exactly the energy that they need for themselves but can’t have because Sophie’s my family.

While some of them have kids and all of them have each other, it isn’t enough compared to what Sophie and I have, as if a comparison could be made. On perhaps the most basic level I don’t believe I could ever understand some of them.

If they’d have been nice, they could have had us as part of their lives. Some of my neighbors did get to know us, and these were very nice folks. But things were always polarized there, not many shades of gray in sight.

Now Sophie and I have moved on, and I must continue to work on the deeper things I cannot pack up and drive away from. For example:

Lying in bed, late at night I may still wince at the occasional memory of the sight of Sophie being pepper sprayed.

The same is true at the thought of somebody hurting Sophie while I lie drugged at an Arizona campground in the middle of nowhere.

Sick people are out there and some are creative enough and motivated enough to perpetrate their hurtful behavior. It gives meaning to their lives, I guess.

Despite all this I’ve never once stood staring up at the sky in anger, fist raised and wild-eyed, screaming about the injustice of it all and how bloody angry and frustrated I am.

Though I’m only human, I don’t think nor act out of anger. I don’t have it inside of me to just go crazy-mad; it requires more energy than what I’ve got.

Keep in mind that my brain and my body are grounded in the endless pursuit of athletic perfection, “playing” on a grown-up’s version of what many consider a hyper-expensive, totally tricked-out child’s toy: a bicycle.

Considering what I’ve accomplished on a bicycle: The events I’ve done on one, the friendships I’ve made through riding one, and the multitude of utterly joyful rides that have tempered my thinking. It’s what made me who and what I was, my identity.

Then, in the blink of an eye I lost it all to an inattentive driver who pulled out in front of me-and suddenly stopped-at the bottom of a hill I’d ridden a thousand times. I nearly died in the ensuing crash and, to be honest sometimes the physical pain afterward made me wish I had.

That was five years ago last August, and I haven’t known the feeling of being one with the road on a bicycle since. But if you look into my eyes closely enough at any given moment you will see that spark that once dominated my face and lightened my oad. That passion will live on within me forever.

Riding was my anger management, my attitude adjustment, my sheer joy and profound contemplation all wrapped up in one.

Bicycling has been a part of my life since forever and, though my definition of riding has lately changed, inside my mind and inside my chest will beat the heart of a lifelong cyclist.

All that in mind, I come from a place that’s much different than your average angry-person-cum-violent-criminal. For all their faults, my family and extended family were virtuous enough. Not a pickpocket or pedophile among them, not even a priest.

So it was mere chance that such a definition could ever be hung on me, an unbelievable turn of events. I admitted to something I didn’t do - I lied - about having assaulted someone. But I didn’t.

The mere fact that I’ve followed to the letter “their” prescribed motions and “their” preordained path to contrition and “their” idea of what is socially acceptable and what I “should” be doing to “rejoin the fold and get with the program” is evidence enough that I’m not that bad person.

Rather, I’m a good person who, in my willingness to rejoin my beloved friend after having been violently and unwillingly separated from her was willing to forever be vilified by society and labeled a “bad guy,” a “violent offender.” So be it; I’m comfortable enough in my own skin.

If life were meant to have broken me down into a screaming lunatic I believe it would have happened long ago.

But all I’m capable of seeing is the smile in my beautiful friend’s face as she buries her snoot in the snow. And I’m grateful for having the patience and diligence to repair whatever mechanical problems arise in my RV.

Perhaps I’m misguided but I’m not afraid to take things apart, for I realize that it’s the first step in fixing anything. Though I’m not always confident I know what I’m doing I am always willing to learn.

Happiness, gratitude and patience are virtues I don’t equate with the sort of philosophy that a bad person, a criminally-minded person would have.

I can’t now and never have been able to get my head around the idea that I’ve had a working relationship with someone who identifies herself as a “probation officer.”

Still, even in the wake of the violent experiences of December 2016 and February 2017, I’ve managed to be true to my Self.

I don’t have the same great memory I once did when my brain was regularly flushed with freshly oxygenated blood after a bike ride. But I’ll never forget to treat others as I wish to be treated myself.

My mind remains open to what next comes our way. Considering all of the trials and tribulations Sophie and I have met and overcome I believe we deserve some true peace in our lives.

I don’t know what form it will take, but I’ve faith in our ability to continue to thrive regardless. Though perhaps I should be angry at all that I’ve lost, I cannot help but imagine all I’ve yet to gain.

Given the greatness of what I’ve had, the unfortunate reality of what I’ve lost, and the realization that I still have so much potential to rebuild - and even surpass- the past greatness I’m neither afraid nor angry.

And as I’m fond of saying, that’s an extremely good thing. To Sophie I say that I love you, and I promise to always strive to create for us the peaceful world we deserve.

Editor’s Note:

The author of this piece is a good friend of mine. He’s a model citizen, an ambassador of goodwill and a model of social comportment. And a jokester at heart.

But I tell you this for a reason: He was concerned that his somber mood in writing the final draft of this post would prove contagious.

That’s him- always thinking of others and wanting the best for everyone. Empathetic to a fault, he is.

He understandably didn’t want the heavy nature of this subject to ruin the reader’s day. So he asked me to lighten things up a little with a witty wittle endnote in the form of a clarification on the many answers to that often-asked question “What, exactly is Supervised Release?” So, here you are:

*Supervised Release is also known on the mean streets as Probation Lite, Probation 2.0, Beta Probation, Probation for Sissies, and for those from families with a long line of criminal behavior: An Important First Step,

Young wannabe felons may also know it as After Prom But Before Community College, or On The Job Training. Those who willfully violate their Supervised Release and effectively up their games to include felony convictions with long-term sentences simply call it Good Family Planning.

** 2018 is barely underway and already two memorable things have happened, three if you include this sentence. Not until today do I ever recall beginning a sentence with a number. Yet here I’ve gone and done so twice. Interesting that the numbers happen to be 2017 and 2018, the answer to a future trivia question, I’m sure.

The other memorable experience was actually in December but, since 2017 was so slow I’m going to backdate the awful meeting with a skunk that poor Sophie endured. Sophie is prey-driven, to be sure. But I still feel guilty because, though we both heard the skunk about the same time (without knowing what it was, of course) it was me who took the excited tone I always use when “we” are out “hunting” and I said “Where is it? Go see!” It was an innocent mistake for us both though only Sophie got skunked. And the skunk stink stopped quick- it didn’t stick thick or smell sick (he he!).

To her credit, Sophie still loves me and I, as always adore her. She’s an angel, all right, whether she’s just barfed or been skunked, she comes out looking and smelling her same wonderful self. It’s what any real lady would naturally do.

And on the animal level in which she responds to my neuro rhythms, I trust her implicitly with my safety. A loving lifesaver, that’s my Sophie!