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


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!



Saturday, February 3, 2018

May the Blessed Sound of Silence Prevail

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. The general milieu here-the riff raff-is 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).

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. Definitely weird, no matter how you slice it. I saw her this morning when I let Sophie out for her nightly visit to the DWP. 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. 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.

At around seven, when the father leaves for whatever place he’s left at seven o’clock every day for the past year, she turns off her car, slithers into the trailer, then lets out the 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.

Still, I’ve had a ringside seat to all the 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 asshole making 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, complete with booze, gunshots, lifeless bodies and self-inflicted gunshot wounds or life sentences in prison or high-speed pursuit car chases followed, of course by fatal gunshot wounds or being imprisoned for life. And to think I used to like that music. Ah, the naïveté of my 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 over-eat, 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. 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 at times to not become for lack of knowing any other way to behave was somehow elevated to the status of Most Powerful Man in the World. What the?

Though I thought I’d survived all that, suddenly the sneering visage of my old man is everywhere. It’s a generic expression, one my father used to refer to as “shit eating” and, unsurprisingly, the same expression engraved in my mind as my father’s own.

Anyway, this overall brain fog I sometimes feel afflicted with 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 much of my thinking. 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 become 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 the Trump phenomenon 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 an alert and, for me, a particularly uneasy feeling.

We all sometimes feel this and have developed effective yet simple means of dealing with it. In this case, the only way I know how to ease it is by keeping an 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 feel it there, clamoring for my attention.

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 unexpectedly increased, his presence in my life became more real, too.

“America,” I remember thinking “is too progressive to elect another rich white guy president now.” 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 survive it again.

It was heartbreaking for me to realize how quickly and deftly I re-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.

Now, writing is exhausting and I’ve got to stop here.

(Several days later)

Since I warned you at the beginning of this post that my message may be somewhat convoluted I’ll not apologize for it here. It’s enough to say that this last segment (above) is the true subject I meant to express. Anything else was either a warmup or a mental distraction I’d built in to this post so as to minimize the fatigue of writing on what is, to me, an incredibly deep subject. Yet, despite my strategy to maintain my energy level the exhaustion ultimately prevailed, and I took a few days off.

I hope this message is clear but, if not, that’s okay. Anybody who knows me or who knows the main subject I’ve addressed here will get it. If you don’t, you may count yourself among the fortunate, for your problems lie elsewhere. Though I’d never wish to trade places with you, i.e. trade the known for the unknown, I’d hope your travails not involve fear and violence as mine have. And I sincerely wish you the best of luck in summoning the courage and the effort to overcome them. We might one day even become neighbors and I’ll need you to be stable and composed just as you’ll need me to be, too. Then we may all sleep in peace.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

In Cycling As In Life; Lessons I’ll Never Forget

This blog is indeed meant to address ideas and issues relating to disability in any form. To me, one of the biggest issues I face regarding my own differently-abled experience is that of grief and loss.

My greatest loss is quite possibly my ability to hit the open road on my bicycle until I can go no further. At which time I’d tack another hour on so as to build strength and endurance for the next ride.

Sounds like terrible pain and suffering to me today and I know that it was then, too. But I wasn’t into the sport of cycling for the physical benefits. I’d ridden a bicycle since age seven and, after nearly four decades on a bike my physical conditioning was never in question.

Rather, bicycling brought with it a cadence upon which the rhythm of my life on any given day could be metered. Turning the cranks, on climbs and on rollers and on the flats. Always in near silence, with the comforting hum of the tires on the pavement and the greased chain, whirring through the gears.

Cranking up the climbs, the short ones, medium ones and the awful-long ones, too.

Then hammering down the descents, screaming along with the roadside just a blur, whether in all-out, balls-to-the-wall, top-gear-damn-I-wish-I-had-one-bigger, bugs-in-my-teeth, hair-on-fire straightaways.

And those twisting and windy descents, every single one of which were special in their own right, even the ones I’d done a million times before. All-out speed wasn’t the only consideration here: The brute strength of the straightaway mountain downhills gave way to the gutsy grace required of a top-speed twisting ride.

And it was always completely up to me as to which of the above I’d take on any given day. Never before and never since has the world felt as if it were mine to do with whatever I wanted.

The possibilities were endless, and weather never stood in the way. Only on occasion would an extra jacket or skullcap be necessary for warmth. And those could be scrunched up and put into a rear pocket. Amazing, those high-tech fabrics.

And those were the glorious days when my riding clothes outnumbered my street clothes. I never wore socks, always shaved my legs and was perpetually dark brown from the sun on my body.

Given the wicking fabrics of my kits and the breathability of my gloves and shoes, moisture of any kind just made my perspiration taste different. On clear days my sweat tasted warm and salty, on rainy days it was just wet. And on freezing days sweat sometimes even became crunchy.

But even on the coldest day I never froze, nor did I ever dehydrate on the hottest. As long as my heart rate maintained its usual place within my comfortable training zone-and after decades of road bicycling I knew it by feel- I was one unit from helmet to my feet. For the next several hours I’d be connected to my bike with hands on the bars, shoes on the pedals and butt on the saddle.

Using every nuance of those five contact points: two hands, two feet, one butt as necessary I was at one with the bike and the road, and I was high as a kite on endorphins, that natural high that comes with extended aerobic exercise.

And the consistent lesson inherent in road bike training was waiting to be learned yet again. And the road can be a harsh, yet fair teacher in that it provides every rider the exact same challenges.

In cycling as in life the ups and the downs are infinitely connected, neither of which can last forever and, with patience and persistence, all can be navigated eventually.

There was no weather I hadn’t ridden before that could ever leave me feeling out of control or precarious-wobbly-slippy-and-slidy. Weather never kept me at home and, even short an arm these days, it still doesn’t. Sadly, not all dangers are about the weather when it comes to sharing the road with other vehicles. But I know that, and I accept it still.

As a man pushing fifty when the odds of a cycling-related traffic accident caught up with me I lost much more than just my left arm and almost my very life. I lost something far, far worse, something that no one else but another athlete who’s experienced similar loss will ever fully understand, no matter how well I put it here.

Throughout my twenties and thirties I spent much of my most productive time on my road bicycle. There exists a flow with traffic that, once joined, I could go for long distances on autopilot.

This allowed me a preponderance of time to do my best and most focused thinking ever. Riding at that comfortable training pace, my heart rate worked as a well-oiled and wondrous physiological machine.

That same increased, oxygenated blood that my powerful heart and lungs combined to provide the reliable strength in my legs also pumped fresh blood to my brain.

The clarity of thought and outright physical strength I had the day of my accident with the Jeep had never before been better, and it hasn’t since, either. It occurred when I was returning home.

But August 10, 2012 was merely one among thousands of such days in which my rides pushed both my brain health and physical endurance and strength to newer and better levels.

Yes, my brain was younger then, which made it that much more of an asset to me, and rightfully so. Back then I wasn’t enabled by a smartphone to remember my appointments and medication alerts and even to have a dictionary/thesaurus app at my fingertips.

Having still had the benefit of both hands and excellent hand-eye coordination, yet another ability maximized by years of cycling, I could crank out the words on my laptop as fast as my mind could conjure them. Rarely was my supple brain, always infused with healthy blood flow ever at a loss for words.

If anything then I had too much to say, and my idealistic brain wanted to say everything there was to say at once. Breaking things down into manageable chunks I could process would only have been doable if I’d had one special person in my life then: An editor.

An editor is the only person who could best direct my ideas and energies to maximize my productivity for both personal and professional gain. I simply wasn’t ready to be a freelance writer yet.

Writing then, as now, is still a deliciously simple task, made even harder by my trying to observe the KISS principle I’d learned in college: Keep It Simple Stupid!

But my writing isn’t meant to be simple, and certainly never stupid. In writing, as with riding, the end result is an unsurpassed level of combined emotional and physical healing that cannot be found elsewhere. I’m experiencing those very benefits right this moment, as I write these words.

That low-impact, cardiovascular workout that feeds both my brain and body I’ve only found during lap swimming workouts as a twenty-something amateur triathlete in Ft Collins in the early 90’s.

But as a lifelong cyclist, my pedaling technique was far better than my swim technique would ever be and I eventually stuck with the bike. With the exception of performance enhancing drugs, it’s something I’ll always have in common with Lance Armstrong.

Up until August 10, 2012 and for many years before that I knew that few other riders I encountered out on the road were stronger than me. Curious, I compared myself to other cyclists this way for healthy and positive reasons. Namely, to continually raise my own personal standards for strength and endurance.

The more I approached other riders from behind on the road, greeting them as I passed by, I knew my efforts were paying off. During the week I indulged in my strength and endurance building experiment with other bicycle commuters.
During after work rides and on weekends all other riders were fair game.

Now that I reflect back on it, other guys would occasionally put the hammer down as I passed, equally unwilling to be passed as I was to let him regain the lead.

Sometimes I held him off, sometimes not, but I noticed one thing to almost always be true: most of the guys who raised our pace and kept it high were guys much older than me.

Every so often after a mile or two or three one of them would suddenly come around me and just leave me in the dust. That never failed to fire me up and getting to share the road with such a rider was always inspiring.

Once I caught my breath I’d always let out a loud Woo-hoo!! out of deference to his ability.

In cycling as in life, we learn from those who are better, smarter, stronger and more experienced than us. It was from the men who rode past me and left me behind that I began learning the fundamentals of road bike racing and training.

The weekly Bustop group ride in North Boulder is one hell of a great ride to go casual, all-out, or anywhere in between. But because of proximity I wasn’t able to ride it more than a handful of times and I’m sure my pack riding skills later suffered greatly for it.

Living east of Boulder in Lafayette I found myself spending the bulk of my road bike training time alone on the open county roads nearby.

This was a great way to practice the meditative aspects of cycling. However, race training, even for the solo disciplines like triathlon and time trials was best done in group rides.

Bike handling skills, pedaling technique, riding in an echelon with several other riders to allow recovery between pulls made everyone faster.

Though it makes sense that a group of riders would be stronger than just one, seeing it in action was an epiphany to me. It also made me laugh to finally learn how it was those older riders could suddenly dart out from behind me and leave me behind.

Those guys were recovering behind me and riding in my draft, letting me do the effort while they hung out behind me the whole time, and why not? Then, as their turnoff approached up ahead off they’d go and make their turn, leaving me with no chance to regain the lead.

In cycling as in life, it always pays to ride smarter, not harder. Those guys taught me that very basic lesson and I’m glad for it. I’m also glad for one other key thing about riders who see each other on the road. That is, our willingness to always stop by another cyclist who might need some assistance.

It’s always possible someone could use a tire patch or a compressed air cartridge for their pump or some water or a Clif Bar, etc.

It’s a protocol we all live by and though our opportunities to help are pretty slim, it’s good to know you’re never alone out there. I’ve even seen a driver park their car off the road to lend assistance, too. And even though it’s been years since I was out on a road bike I always carry flat repair items, just in case.

Such camaraderie and unconditional helpfulness seems in woefully short supply these days. But every cyclist knows-and will always know- that this positive ethic will always be a part of our culture that we can depend on, no matter where we are riding.

All this seems like a mouthful, I understand. But these are just a few of the memories of my wonderful days as a dedicated road bicycle rider. And within seconds they may flash through my mind when I happen to see a lonely rider out on the country roads near my home.

Those memories are fond ones, and I’ll be eternally grateful to have them. But that profound sense of loss at not being part of that culture anymore except vicariously through other riders carries with it some sadness, at times.

Though it’s cold comfort, I remind myself that the end of my days as a powerful bicyclist came as I was doing what I did best and loved most: Making myself an even stronger and better cyclist.

The memory of it all still gives me goosebumps, and having written about it here today reminds me that it’ll be okay from now on… Just different, that’s all. And that’s not a bad thing.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trust Is Beautiful

There is a certain personality disorder that has as one of its more pronounced symptoms the need for the afflicted to continuously chip away at the trust of those around him to the point where none is left to be found.

Only then, it’s been observed does the afflicted person take action, trying to rebuild that trust they so wantonly squandered in the first place. Then, once the person has achieved their goal of rebuilding that trust, he again squanders that trust until none exists, and the cycle repeatedly continues.

Of course, the afflicted person requires validation of his existence, something he cannot do alone; others must be his foil. And, in order to feed the cyclical nature of the afflicted’s illness, that foil must repeatedly submit to his charms which may easily be rebuked at first but, over time wins the battle of attrition and sees himself as “emerging victorious” over his foil. You know, of course, what comes next.

The old phrase “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” seems to capture the essence of this superficially good behavior on the part of the afflicted. This good behavior, however is little more than malice wrapped up in a smiling face and contrite attitude that has only one end in mind-the crushing emotional breakdown of the person to whom this apparent good behavior is directed.

Whether it’s the alcoholic, the philandering spouse, the abusive mate, the child abuser, the serial rapist/robber/pedophile/murderer/attacker, etc. that portends to have a conscience and is begging forgiveness: “I swear I’ll never ever do X again, I mean it this time, please believe me, etc.” is his mantra.

But true sorrow does not require a mantra; it only requires saying “I’m sorry” once or twice.

True forgiveness, how’s, is just that: True. It’s the ultimate act of vulnerability that one person can extend to another person or, as I swear I sometimes do, extend to the world at large.

Just as an opportunist might seek a worthwhile target for a given self-interest, a foil/fool/victim/unsuspecting bystander, etc. might be seeking someone to justify his existence by finding someone to forgive.

How perfect is that? On one hand, an abuser seeks a victim upon whom he may perpetrate his emotional and or physical trauma. And on the other an overly trusting individual wanders into his trap and is cleanly eviscerated at the hands of his sudden tormentor. It’s almost as if the victim wanted to suffer.

From a distance, it seems perfect: One, with a smile on his face but malice in his heart seeks to validate himself by springing that malice upon someone. The other, with a smile on his face and a smile in his heart is simply looking to find or to continue finding the peace that makes his existence worthwhile. If sudden bad fortune should befall him it’s not a bad thing. No. He might actually make his world good again, perhaps even better than before by summoning the mettle to forgive.

One justifies himself by hurting, the other by saying “Oh, that’s okay.” It’s not unlike John Cleese playing the overly forgiving Englishman in the Monty Python movie. He’s constantly being terribly physically injured in some awful way by someone but doesn’t wish to leave the other feeling badly about what’s happened.

“I’m okay, it’s only a scratch,” he says despite the torrent of blood gushing from his temple, “Just a flesh wound,” he says another time “it’ll be right as rain tomorrow,” limping away.

Seeing these scenarios in print does not do justice to the comedic brilliance with which these seemingly graphic scenes are portrayed by the actors. It takes gifted people to make something like this both humorous and, unfortunately for many of us, painfully true. We undoubtedly see ourselves somewhere in these scenes.

Unlike in Monty Python movies, constantly prostrating yourself before others in the hopes of not getting stepped on or run over is neither healthy or natural. We do not exist, not one of us, solely to absorb the anger or hurt of anyone else at our own expense. Yet, though fully aware that when we stick our neck out to forgive we may well have our head chopped off we nonetheless forgive despite the danger.

I’ve done it many times myself: Trying to convince myself I was safe in the face of all evidence to the contrary I have knowingly subordinated myself to another person who, unsurprisingly took the opportunity to once again step on me.

Like Linus’ sister Lucy, who holds the football and encourages Charlie Brown to kick it knowing full well she’ll pull it away again at the last minute we all know what happens next.

It all boils down to Trust. One relatively simple concept that, depending upon how you learn to look at it early in life can make or break your adult experiences.

“Trust bandits” is the term that author/psychologist Ken Magid and Carole McElvey applies to children in their book High Risk - Children Without a Conscience. As the compelling blurb on the cover states: “They grow up to be charmers, con artists, amoral entrepreneurs, thieves, drug users, pathological liars, and worst of all: psychopathic killers . . . and they are often the product of even the best-intentioned families. Who are these children without a conscience?”

Having been raised by parents who had terrible trust issues with their own childhood families I came out of my own youth with a toxic mixture of fear and distrust of the world around me. That wouldn’t have been a bad thing in and of itself if I never left the protective little bubble I grew up in, fraught with terrible energy though it was.

Rather I believed there was something much more and much better than what I’d always known at home and I longed for the day I could be free to go find it.

Then, I reasoned, I could leave all the awfulness behind and be on with my life. And I was largely right about that; I could no longer be hurt by those who took such sadistic pleasure in tormenting me. Though their actions and words would continue to ring in my ears and wring my heart at times I continue to walk through this world, now in my early fifties hoping to find a place where trust as I extend it to others is reciprocated in kind.

It’s a conditional means of seeking trust to be sure, but I’m as yet unaware of a better way to go about it. It’s also a self-defeating way of trying to find trust in the world, for no one will ever extend the same trust to me that I believe I’m extending to them.

Given its subjective nature, two specific examples of trusting situations can never be compared equally. Even if it were possible to do so, I’ve learned that I wouldn’t know how to respond to someone I could “implicitly trust” because I’ve never learned what that means. By the time it became evident that I should learn, too many hearts had been broken and too many feelings so deeply hurt that I can’t bear the idea of risking that again. The more I realize I still need to learn about trust the more I believe this is true.

Enter Sophie, my source of boundless love and trust without conditions. She’s my service dog and we’ve been together almost forever; nine years and counting. We’ve shared all the things that make up a life together, the good, the bad and the downright hellish.

For the record, those hellish times are a direct result of my poor judge of character and overall bad judgment in sizing up a situation. I naively wandered into the path of danger and dragged her along in the process. Today we are both paying a physical price for my mistakes, and that’s enough said on that subject.

But the good times about, riding for miles high in the Rockies along an old railroad line converted into a trail. Sophie was only about two then, but a very strong and hearty gal, and I remember happily thinking how we had her whole life ahead of us.

Now, seven or so years later and our pace has slowed considerably. Sophie no longer brings me bunny rabbits as a present, though she still stalks them until they run away. Squirrels will always flummox her though she’s too ladylike to ever allow herself to get too publicly frazzled about it. She largely ignores deer but reserves the right to charge one anyway if the mood strikes her. Other times a curious deer could look through our front door and Sophie couldn’t care less. Sophie considers her feelings for cats on a case-by-case basis, preferring feral cats because they run away. These days, though both of us are equally likely to walk right on by a cat and, if it’s got enough mettle to keep still we may never even notice.

And, like me sometimes, we’re still learning sometimes painful memories about our world. About three weeks ago, for example, poor Sophie got skunked. It was a terrible experience for her and for me, as I was helpless to do anything but watch. The odor was so overpowering I could not approach and comfort her and, in a strange way I felt kind of scared.

Of the two of us it’s Sophie who is always the strong one and the smart one, the one I can count on. Suddenly, in the context of Sophie being skunked I found myself adrift in a sea of inadequacy and even confusion. I didn’t know what to do.

That last part, in case you were wondering is one example of a “bad” thing we’ve experienced.

But I like to remember watching her run full speed through the snow, burying her snoot as she goes, emerging with an ear-to-ear smile and a face full of snow. Watching her rolling in a snow pile, as she did earlier today, with the same puppy-like joy as ever.

As a puppy though, she didn’t need pain medication to help her feel so spry. Regardless, I’m grateful for the chance to make it happen and to watch it again, as if for the first time.

Swimming she loves like no other, and she’s swum in more places than I’ll ever recall. Some of the more notable include: Horsetooth Reservoir, Bellingham Bay in Washington State, Lake Mead, many little lakes throughout our world travels in the high country, the Sea of Cortez and plenty of other places where the water was deep enough-and where she was quick enough-to go in for a dip before I could stop her.

My favorite will always be the Sea of Cortez or, as I like to call it the Sea of Dan Cortese (he was an old MTV celeb, if I recall). It was almost exactly a year ago that we were there:

The water was so warm and shallow, with no waves, really and I’d go out maybe 25 yards or so and just feel the January Mexican sun as I floated almost motionless on my back. Sophie would sit at attention on the sand, watching me. I know this because every so often I’d roll over to have a look at her. There she’d be, waiting and watching.

After resuming my floating position for a bit, I’d occasionally be startled by something that felt like a head butt. Sure enough, it was Sophie swimming out to check on me, make sure I was still alive, etc. After all, she is my seizure dog and if I’m going to insist on lying motionless, even out in the Sea of Dan Cortez then so be it, she’s gonna come check on me.

And that’s not even the best part! I’d give her lots of love and a big hug and tell her how much I love her, then challenge her to a race back to shore. Keep in mind her little doggie feet weren’t touching bottom…

As we swam back to shore, if I tried hard I could keep up with her with just one arm. Swimming completely under the water I could look over at her paws as she swam. I didn’t care if the warm salty water would irritate my eyes later (they never did) I have always loved watching her swim. Having known her before she could swim and also knowing how she came to learn many fond memories always come to mind.

Watching her doggie paddling along from my vantage point underwater and underneath is a magical image I’ll never forget. There’s something so beautiful about how she does it, how graceful yet strong despite what I believe really should be an awkward sort of affair. But Sophie, like so many things, makes it look easy and delicate.

The other thought that crossed my mind at these times is directly relevant to the subject of this post: I recall imagining being her height and how gutsy she is to swim that far out to in such deep water just to check on me. If the roles were reversed would I be able to do that? I’d like to think so, but I remember how scared I was the first time I got into the deep end of the pool. Wow, she is a brave, beautiful doggie.

I know it’s a long-winded way of getting to my earlier point but that example of swimming with Sophie in Mexico in January, 2017 is the sincerest and most unconditional example of Trust I’ll ever have the good fortune of knowing. It’s better late than never and, where I can I’ll do my best to take what I’ve learned about trust all along, including from Sophie, and extend it to others.


Thanks, girl!