Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Fourth Dimension


I read another book.  So once again I've got stuff like time and space and the nature of the universe rattling around my brain like a dried pea in a maraca.  This one was called A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.

It explains the Big Bang to lay people.  Sort of.  I got lost a lot in the specifics, but all I can say is that there are a whole lot of really smart physicists and astronomers who have figured out a lot of really amazing things.  I'm glad they're there, doing what they do.

To astrophysicists, this is like 2 + 2

One amazing thing I learned is that the evidence we have of the Big Bang is only temporary, and as the universe continues to expand, eventually all the stars in the sky will be too far away for us to see, and in 5 billion years or so, any other astronomers on other planets (our solar system will have blown up by then) will not have any evidence there ever was a Big Bang.  We are living a very unique time in the universe's history where we can figure these things out.  

See, it's all very clear.  Now.  

The quick answer to the book's central question (Why is there something rather than nothing?) is that nothing is unstable.  That is to say, nothingness can not sustain itself-- it needs something-ness to balance it out.     

Mind = blown


I remember when I was a kid hearing a "wild theory" that time was the fourth dimension! It totally blew my mind. Time?  A dimension in space?  

[WARNING: I may be talking out of my ass here.]

But today when I read books on astrophysics and the nature of the universe, they seem to take it for granted that time is the fourth dimension.  It's not some wild theory but a scientific given.

It makes sense when you consider that in order for two objects to intersect, not only do you need space coordinates, but a time coordinate as well.  When two cars collide, it just means they are occupying the same space (3 dimensions) at the same time (4th dimension).  If one car appeared in that space a second later (or earlier), there would be no crash.  So time is a crucial element in determining an object's location.

Of course, time is unique (to us) in that we are moving through it at a constant rate and we have no control over it.  Within the first three dimensions, we can move up and down and side to side, but you can't do that with time.

Here's how our journey through time was first described to me in a metaphor from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five:

But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of pipe.

This was only the beginning of Billy's miseries in the metaphor. He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe. The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar. All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe. He didn't know he was on a flatcar, didn't even know there was anything peculiar about his situation
We move through time at a constant rate.  But as we learn more about the universe expanding, on a grand scale we don't really have control over where we are in space, either.  Our ability to move through space is quite minuscule on a universal scale. We (our planet and solar system) are all moving apart from the rest of the universe the same way we move through time.   We can't control that, either.


Believe it or not, I can even tie this fourth dimension stuff into my job as a librarian.  One of the main components of evaluating sources that I teach students is to always look at the publication date.  When something was written is just as important as who, what, or where it was published.

The when has always been a vital part of information for me.  Whenever I read a book, or watch a movie, or hear a piece of information, I want to know how old it is or what time period it represents.  Whether a story takes place in 1870 or 1970 or 2005 or 2013 will be just as important as whether it took place in India, Italy, or Iowa.

When is intertwined with where.



Friday, December 13, 2013

The Sleep Slalom

On cold nights, all the warm bodies in the house like to huddle together.

So when I have to get up to pee, getting in and out of bed is an exercise in twisting and turning, leading to something I like to call the Sleep Slalom, illustrated here:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Last Day Alive!

This is the email I received at work (all italics, capitalization, underlines, bolds, exclamation points, and otherwise annoying punctuation theirs):

We will be having a Trivia Question at our [staff] meeting next week...!

“If you knew that you had one day left to live, how would you spend your last day??”

It could be enjoying a certain place or destination, or doing a specific activity, or eating a favorite meal at a special restaurant, or spending time with family or friends, or meeting a particular person??? You get the idea!!

Um, no. I'm sorry, I don't "get the idea!!"

First of all, this is not a "Trivia Question".  It's a hypothetical.  And not a very good one.  If I'm supposed to come up with a very personal answer of how I would spend my last remaining hours on Earth, I don't need you to make suggestions as if I'm ordering dinner at Olive Garden.  "So what do you recommend for my last day alive? Is the eggplant parm good?"

My first reaction was: this is not a question I can answer candidly in front of my co-workers.  Because on my last day in this body, I would surely want to get my freak on.

But after thinking about it, the question became even more absurd.  My last day to live? How morbid is that?  Did I just find out I was dying?  I'd probably spend the whole day weeping and processing my own mortality.

Which leads to a lot of logistical questions.  Am I the only one dying, or is the whole world going to end? Because it would change the answer if everyone else had to get up for work the next day.

Also, am I healthy? Is tennis an option? If I'm healthy, then why am I dying? How much time did I have to prepare? There are a lot of activities you can't really put together in one day. Have I already "got my affairs in order?" If not, I'd have to write out a To-Do list and spend most of the day running errands and tying up loose ends.  Just contacting all my loved ones to say goodbye would probably take most of the day.

Don't leave all those chores for your loved ones!

I could have responded with something smart-assy like my questions above, but instead I just ignored the email (and the 17 subsequent email reminders.)


So the meeting was yesterday, and we received a sheet with everyone's answer.  The "trivia" part of the game was to guess who said what, but the answers were so generic that hardly anyone guessed who said what (there were 22 submissions.)  Most people said they'd spend the day with their family (duh!) and enjoy some favorite hobbies, food, or vacation destination.

People mentioned visiting the Grand Canyon or Italy or Spain or someplace warm.  That's all fine and good, but that must mean that you spent your second-to-last day traveling, because you can't get to any of those places (and enjoy it) in a day.  Which gets back to my question of how much planning time we had, and if we're dying, HOW are we dying?  You have to be in pretty good shape to travel and enjoy a vacation spot. But I can't imagine many people who are out on the jet-ski on the day before their body closes down, unless the plan is to commit ritual seppuku.

People also mentioned all the people who would be there with them.  It's nice that everyone assumes all your family and friends would drop everything to go along with whatever plans you have on this special day.  But what if your family and friends live far away?  You know how long it takes to put together a wedding to get all of your family and friends in one place?  Some people mentioned meeting with celebrities.  Um, is this a fantasy last day live?  I didn't realize that death grants you a bunch of wishes on your last day.  In that case, I'd like to change my answer.  I'd like to start off the morning by winning Wimbledon, and then see where the day takes me from there. 

My favorite answer was the person who said, "My wish isn't rated PG, but I would spend the day with my family." There's really only one thing I can imagine someone doing with a family member that's not PG, and I really hope it's with a spouse.


One last annoying/interesting thing from this exercise.  When we received the sheet with all the answers printed out, EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE ended with an exclamation point.  Even entries with multiple sentences-- there were no periods whatsoever.  Every! Single! Sentence!  Why are people so excited to be dying?

I pointed this out to the lady sitting next to me, and she said she didn't put an exclamation point when she wrote hers.  So the organizers of this game inserted exclamations into every entry.  Are they that excited about the prospect of all their colleagues dying?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Supersized Vegucation

My wife has about 16 different food-related documentaries on her Netflix queue.  So last week we watched one of them, Vegucated.  We mostly chose it because it's only one hour and 16 minutes, and we didn't have a lot of time.
The premise of the movie is that the writer/director/star, Marisa Miller Wolfson (it just now occurs to me what an ironic last name she has), recruits three New Yorkers to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks, and films the results.

If this plot sound familiar, it's because it is.  It's the exact opposite experiment that Morgan Spurlock does in his famous documentary Supersize Me, where he eats nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days, and shows how quickly his body turns into secret sauce.

Even the tone of Vegucated reminded me of Supersize Me, with cartoons and graphs and self-deprecating jokes about how much fun this experiment will be. 

But where Supersize Me entertains and informs, and lets the experiment speak for itself, Vegucated veers off in a different direction that feels too much like propaganda and preaching.  At one point, one of Wolfson's vegan friends counsels one of the participants that she doesn't have to eat vegan all that time, that veganism isn't a religion. But that's exactly what it feels like in this movie: Vegans trying to create converts.  The original tone of "let's see what happens if we go vegan" turns into something else. 

I didn't learn anything from this movie that I didn't already know, but the three participants in the study were amazed (and disgusted) by what they learned about factory farming.  Some of the things that horrified them, however, were just normal things that happen on a family farm.  It's a good illustration of how far removed most people are these days from where their food comes from. 

The tone and premise of the movie seemed so much like a knock-off of Supersize Me that I wondered if the writer/director/star Wolfson wasn't Morgan Spurlock's girlfriend.   I remembered that in Supersize Me Spurlock's girlfriend was a vegan who was repulsed by his experiment.

So I looked it up.  Wolfson is not Spurlock's girlfriend, but my search brought up some interesting findings.


Spurlock's "then-girlfriend (now ex-wife)" (Wikipedia) is Alexandra Jamieson, a chef who ended up writing a book about the detox diet she created for Spurlock after his McDonald's experiment.

Jamieson was a very public vegan, but then this blog post of hers from February of this year caught my attention: I'm Not Vegan Anymore.  

The post is a confession, a coming out, a revelation of a personal struggle.  She's been craving animal products for over a year, trying to suppress it, sneaking around, hiding it from her friends, but realizing that her body needs what it needs.  She is what she is: an omnivore.  The parallels to a closeted gay person-- the guilt, the confusion, the denial-- are probably a rhetorical flourish, but they work well.  Aside from the annoying amount of one-sentence paragraphs, it's really a great read.

Reading this confession reminds me of something I read in a social science book recently.  The author talked about how for many social revolutions, the original proponents of civil rights go a little bit overboard, go out of their way to drastically break from the norm.  As the social issue becomes more mainstream, objections to the previous social norm come more back to the center. For example, the first proponents of women's rights wanted to get rid of marriage altogether as a misogynistic institution.  But instead of getting rid of it, the mainstream has redefined gender roles within it.

That's what I see happening with veganism.  There are tons of (admittedly anecdotal) stories of people who used to be vegan or vegetarian coming back to an omnivorous diet.  Usually they're still more conscious of eating responsibly than before their vegan awakening, but they're not as militant about it.  The best part of Jamieson's post is the end where she writes a personal credo of what she believes:       

I believe there is a middle way. There is no ONE way that everyone should live or eat. People can still love animals and care about protecting the environment AND honor their own animal bodies and consume the foods that they need.

I believe there are many paths to health.

I believe you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.

I believe that a vegan, whole-foods diet saved my life and is a delicious, valid, healthy style of eating for many people.

I believe that a vegan diet should be promoted as one of many possible ways to get the body and life that people crave.

I believe most people should be eating more vegetables and less processed, chemicalized, processed junk food.

I believe we should restructure the way animals are raised so that they live in more natural, comfortable, humane surroundings and stop force-feeding them 80% of all antibiotics used in the US.

I believe humans are animals. And some animals need to eat other animals to be healthy. Some do not.

And I believe in the innate kindness of people. And that by having compassion for each other, no matter how we eat, we are creating a new food culture, and a better world.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Sound of Satire

Katherine made me watch The Sound of Music a few months ago.  It's one of her favorite movies, and I'd never seen it.  Coming from a family that plays and appreciates good (classical) music, she grew up a fan of Broadway musicals.  I did not.  The only musical I knew growing up was the movie Grease.

Oh, Sandy!

It wasn't til I was in my 30's that I started to appreciate any broadway musicals, and even then they needed puppets or Mormons having sex to get me interested.

I've enjoyed Avenue Q many many times, but this is the first time I've seen this promotional poster for it.

When we were in New York on vacation a few years ago, West Side Story came on cable in our hotel room.  That's another famous movie that I'd never seen but Katherine had grown up with.  I thought that would be a really appropriate place to watch a movie about New York street gangs, so we settled in to watch it.   We had to stop about 1/3 of the way in because I couldn't stop laughing.  Really, what are all these tough street kids doing prancing around, snapping their fingers, and otherwise doing very gay things? (Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it kind of undercuts their street cred.)

Seriously-- I'm supposed to think these are tough guys? Even now, I can't look at that picture without laughing.

Katherine couldn't stand me laughing at one of her favorite movies, so we stopped watching.

When we moved into our new house, it took a while to get our new entertainment center together, but once we did, I promised her that the first movie we'd watch together would be her favorite, The Sound of Music.  Which I'd never seen, but I knew a lot of the pop culture references to it.

The hills are alive! 

We watched the whole thing, and I actually enjoyed it.  I didn't feel impatient to get through it-- I wanted to know what happened.  It was a valuable piece of cultural literacy that I should know.

Then a few weeks ago someone posted this on the website McSweeney's:

I Regret to Inform You That My Wedding to Captain Von Trapp Has Been Cancelled by  Baroness Elsa Schraeder

Now I'm glad that I've seen The Sound of Music for another reason: I got to appreciate this brilliant piece of satire.  I LOLed several times throughout, but this is perhaps my favorite line:

You’ll... be glad to know I have retained custody of the Captain’s hard-drinking gay friend, Max. Anyone who gets tired of sing-a-longs should feel free to look us up.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Password Plot

I was reading a book.  The title is not important, as I'm guessing you've encountered this same situation in many other books, movies, or TV shows.  

In this bit of fiction, a woman was stuck in the office of a man she'd recently met.  She needed access to the network, so she brings up his login and needs to enter a password.  I start to squirm, because I see where this is going.

Over the next few pages she goes through an intricate guessing game, analyzing what she knows about this stranger.  On the third try, she guesses his password (his sister's name) and gains access to his files.

I groan and lose all respect for this book. 

I'm amazed at how often this exact scenario happens in a book or movie.  It's such a lame, ridiculous plot point.   The protagonist needs to gain access to someone's files, so they take a stab at a stranger's password.  And it works.  Really?  Of the 20 bazillion combinations of letters and words, in three tries our hero guesses the name of the dead relative, pet, or food that the person uses as their password?  Really?

This is how passwords work in the real world:  I could tell you that one of my passwords is based on my cat's name, and in a hundred tries, you still couldn't guess the exact combination of letters, numbers, and case.  My cat's name is Hermione.  The password is not herm74Butt, or herM10nee10 or Cat56Barf. But I guarantee you would not have guessed any of those in your first 100 tries.  Anyone who lives in 21st-century America and cares at all about protecting their files will have a similarly difficult password to guess.

So what is this plot point of correctly guessing a password trying to illustrate?

If it's to show how stupid the person is who created the password, well then, it's a fine plot point. 

Mission accomplished.  Carry on.

If it's just a device to allow the hero access to those files, there are many more credible ways to do that.  For instance, the hero could find a piece of paper with the password written down.  Yes, that's also stupid, but way more believable than them guessing a string of letters and numbers. Or the hero learns the password in some other unlikely, but more credible way.  I'll let the author come up with that.  I'm not writing the story, I'm just telling you what doesn't work.

Often I think the point of guessing the password is to show how clever the hacker is.  They deduce the password based on what they know of the hackee.  They analyze their personality and make educated guesses.  Or it's there to illustrate some personality trait about the hackee.  See, his password is Yankees, so he really likes baseball. (See above re: stupid character.) 

("You will always return to your dark master, the cocoa bean")

The hilarity of the Seinfeld scene notwithstanding, when it's used in a serious story, the whole premise is so unbelievable, it just ends up coming across as a lame, manipulative trick that annoys me.  


I got about halfway through this book, and decided it wasn't worth reading any further.  I was able to got over the password thing, but the rest of it just continued to suck.  It's not often I give up on a book after I've invested time in it.  Even if the writing annoys me, I usually stick with it to find out what happens-- to see if there's a payoff at the end.

With this book, I didn't care.  I hated all the characters and didn't care what happened to them.

I could guess this password, and it was sucktastic.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dead Celebrities

Last Sunday I was driving home (from an activity I promised not to mention here for a while) and I was listening to my CD of Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs."  As the title track came on, I had to turn it up really loud (the only way to listen to that song), and thought of the new personal poignancy of the song for me, as I drove through my new home, the Chicago suburbs of Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie, and Evanston.  Rockin' the suburbs, indeed!

I was in such a good mood when I got home, I decided I would listen to music in the shower, something I hardly ever do.  I went to my CD tower and looked through my hundreds of CDs, and my eyes fell on Lou Reed.  I put in a Lou Reed CD, something I hadn't heard in months, possibly years.

After my shower I went to The Facebook and posted a link to "Rockin' the Suburbs" with a comment about how that song now has a new meaning for me.

Then I read my FB feed.  It was full of links from friends lamenting the death of Lou Reed, which had happened earlier that day.  I'd just listened to his one of his CDs for the first time in a long time. Spooky coincidence!

My second thought was, "Wow, that's terrible timing for my Ben Folds post.  No one's going to care about that."

Yes, it really was tragic timing for my Ben Folds FB post.

When I told a friend about the coincidence of me listening to Lou Reed and then finding out he'd died, he said, "Way to go, Tim. You killed Lou Reed."


Many people posted on FB about how sad they were that Reed had died.  How rock-n-roll had lost a legend.

I love Lou Reed's music, but I can't say I'm sad, or even affected, by his death.  He was 71.  Which is younger than the average age of death, but it's not like he was young.  His death wasn't tragic.  He lived a long life with a successful career that made a lot of people happy (or inspired or less lonely or whatever.) He had an impact. And it's not like he was in the prime of his career, still making lots of great music.  (I told my friend that I could have just as easily killed Ben Folds, which would have been worse, because at least he's still coming out with albums.)  

It's not like I'm going to miss Lou at our weekly coffee klatch.  He didn't even know me.  So no, I'm not going to cry any tears over the passing of someone I never met.

Instead, I will celebrate his accomplishments, listen to more of his CDs, and honor his accomplishments and legacy he left behind.  This is not a moment for sadness.  It's a moment for appreciation.


I discovered Lou Reed and the Velvent Underground in college, in the early 90's, through my friend Jim.  He loaned me a Velvet Underground tape (yes, tape!) and some other Lou Reed things, and then I checked out (and copied) some Lou Reed CDs from the library.

One thing I found interesting about Reed's songs is that women say a lot of things in them.  He has songs titled, "Stephanie Says", "Candy Says", "Lisa Says", and "Carolyn Says" (and "Carolyn Says II").  Also there's the line from his one hit single, "Walk on the Wild Side":
...and the colored girls say, 'Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo ...' 
 I heard that later he changed that line in concert to the more politically correct, "and the African American girls say..."

As a shy college student, "Lisa Says" really spoke to me:
Lisa says on a night like this,
It'd be so nice if you'd gave me a great big kiss.
And lisa says for just one little smile,
I'll sit and play for you for the longest while...

Oh, why am I so shy? Why am I so shy?
Those good times, you know, they just seem to pass me by.
Why am I so shy?

That song describes most of my interactions with women in college.


Here's a great song Lou wrote for Andy Warhol after he died.  (Lou and Andy were good friends.)  It's a beautiful eulogy full of regret and sadness.    


Now Stephanie, Candy, Lisa, Carolyn, and the rest all say, "Rest in peace, Lou."

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I know there are people who read my Facebook posts about tennis and roll their eyes, thinking, "There he goes again, blathering about tennis. Enough already."   I know this because I've thought the same thing about some of my FB friends who always post about some single-minded obsession.  

This week I read a somewhat entertaining article about ways people be can be annoying on Facebook:  7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook.  I almost didn't finish the article because I didn't agree with the author's cynical view that so many posts are motivated by bragging or inducing jealousy in other people.  I often post about my tennis (and other) successes, but it's not to brag or elevate myself above others.  I do it because I'm happy and proud and I want to share my happiness/accomplishments with people.

But I kept reading the article, and I'm glad I did, because there's a great Venn diagram of concentric circles showing how few things actually will interest your FB public.

The author gives examples of things in the blue, green, and orange territory.  Funniest line in the article: "Off to the gym, then class reading...We're talking about serious blue territory here, which means that even your mom doesn't give a shit."

It was with this article in my head that I was reluctant to post on FB that I'd won my match on Thursday, which meant I got to go to the playoff finals in Aurora!  (The event that I really really really wanted to go to.)

In fact, I posted it Thursday night, then took it down immediately because I worried about bragging.  Stupid Venn diagram, get out of my head!

Friday morning I reconsidered and posted it again.  (I could at least justify it because I knew for a fact that my mom did give a shit.  I called her after my match on Thursday and she was excited for me.)  The post would get 29 "likes" and several comments of encouragement.  I guess it was interesting to my FB friends after all.


When I was in high school I was obsessed with wrestling.  I grew up in a wrestling family and when I joined the high school team it become my whole life.  As a junior I made it to the state tournament, and as a senior I was the team captain and a contender to win State.  I ended up getting third in the state, which I was proud of, but fell short of my goal.

Making it to the league playoff finals in Aurora felt like the closest I would ever come to re-living my high school wrestling glory days.  As a 42-year-old man, I was given another chance to win the big tournament.


A few months ago my new mother-in-law made the mistake of asking me if my league tennis matches were something that people came and watched.  I was touched that she wanted to support my hobby like that, but I had to admit that people don't watch league matches.  There's not even a place to sit.  But I told her about the playoffs, and said that IF I qualify for them, and IF I make it to the final weekend, there would surely be fans at the final event in Aurora.

So when I won my match on Thursday, I told my in-laws that I was going to Aurora, and they offered to drive me and Katherine to the tournament.  We loaded up the car and took the hour-and-a-half trip out to the far western suburbs.

My in-laws are super nice, humble people who would never do anything to make me feel inferior, but sometimes I get a slight inferiority complex around them.  Katherine is the only person in her family who doesn't have a doctorate.  Her family members work super hard, do very well in their careers, and earn a lot of money.  I have two masters degrees, but I'm also working as a part-time librarian and letting my wife be the primary breadwinner.  I personally have no problems with that arrangement (I take care of more house stuff), but there are times when I worry that they think of me as their deadbeat son-in-law.

Let me be clear.  They've never given me any reason to feel like this.  It's all my own insecurities. 

So it was quite a thrill to have them watch me play tennis.  They actually got to see me at something I'm really good at, something I'm proud of.  See-- I'm not a loser!  I work hard.  I have talent. 


So with all these issues swirling around, how did I actually do in Aurora?

I was in the semifinals of the tournament, the final four competitors in my division.  In my first match, I played the top seed, a super nice guy.  Most of the guys in this league are friendly, but he was exceptionally so, giving me high fives at every change-over. We had a great first set, and were on serve, each of us holding easily, until I was up 6-5.  On his service game I got a little divine intervention.  The sun came out and it was at a point in the sky that was right in his eyes.  He couldn't serve well under those conditions, so I broke him and took the set, 7-5.

At the beginning of the second set, Katherine and her mother left to go to the bathroom. I promptly lost three straight games.  Down 0-3, I clawed my way back, but it wasn't enough.  I lost 3-6.

In the final set my cheering section stayed the whole time.  I was able to step up my game and wear down my opponent.  I won 6-3.  On to the finals!


During the break between my matches I took a picture of the brackets, showing myself in the finals, and posted it to Facebook.  It got 18 "likes."  I guess people do care!

Before I could play in the championship match, I had to wait for the other semifinal match to end.  They were having a real battle out there.  Although they played three sets, just like us, their match lasted an hour longer.  By the time they were done and the winner was ready to play me, it was about 5:30pm. It was already starting to get dark.

In the championship match, the first set was a massacre.  I jumped out to a 5-0 lead.  We were only in the second game when I thought, "I'm gonna win.  This guy can't compete with me."  He showed a little resistance near the end of the first set, but I finished it off, 6-2.

But he became a new player in the second set.  Suddenly he was getting to everything, hitting everything back that I threw at him.  Hey, that's what I do!  He won four games in a row and took the set, 6-3.

Ugh.  I felt really bad for my fans. It was dark now, so we had to turn on the lights on the court. And as it got dark it got colder.  The day had never been warm, in the 50's and partly sunny, but at night time it got into the 40's.  It was very cold on the court.  When I looked over to the bleachers, I saw my wife and her parents bundled up in blankets.  I felt bad for making them sit there in the cold for so long.  And now they had to sit through one more set.  All the other matches were done for the day, so my small three-person cheering section sat there alone and huddled together for warmth.

Like this, but only three people.

Although I had lots of chances, I lost the first game to go down 0-1.  That was five straight games I'd lost.  If I didn't change something, I was going to lose the match I had been convinced I'd already won.  In front of my in-laws.  I needed an answer.  I needed a second wind.  I'd been playing high-energy tennis for four hours.  My legs hurt, my back hurt, I was cold, and my opponent seemed to have all the momentum.  I wasn't sure I could beat him.  Even though I hate sports cliches, I told myself I had to "dig deep."  Whatever the hell that even means.

I evened the match at 1-1, and in the next game I had lots more chances to take the lead.  But every time he'd battle back.  He went up 2-1 and I started losing hope.  I had to work hard, so very hard, just to win the next game and keep even with him.

Then I discovered something.  A chink in his armor.

Wow.  If you google "chink in armor", it comes up with images of Asian athletes.  That's really offensive.

I found that if I just kept hitting my forehand hard, cross-court, and into the corner, I could do that all day.  I kept running him around while I stood in one place bashing the ball into that same corner.  Every time.  Eventually he'd get tired and make a mistake.

I grabbed on to this strategy and didn't let go.  I won four out of the next five games to take the championship: 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.


As my opponent and I gathered for our trophy presentation, the only people left were the tournament director, his assistant, and my three fans.  I got a big glassy trophy.

Cat sniffs trophy

This is by far the biggest tennis accomplishment I've ever had.  I won "State"!  I won respect!  I'm validated!

I posted a picture of my trophy on FB.  So far it's gotten 30 "likes." (I promise this will be my last tennis post for a long time.) 

And I called my Mom.  Who definitely gave a shit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Power of the Ring

Over the long Fourth of July weekend-- my first weekend after moving to Chicagoland-- I played three tennis matches over four days in my new league.  I lost all three matches.  Later that week I would play my oldest brother in our annual grudge match where he always beats me.  He beat me.  That was four straight losses.

Then I got married and went on my honeymoon.  I didn't play a tennis match for two weeks.  My first league match as a married man I beat a clearly overmatched (and possibly stoned) dude 6-0, 6-1.  

Then came the biggest test of my new tennis career in my new home.  I was to play the best guy in the league-- someone who was 5-0 and had not lost a set yet.

He was cruising to another routine victory against me, up 6-3, 5-2.  He only needed to win one more game.  That's when I shut him down.  I came back to win the second set, 7-5, and went on to win the match, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Throughout that match, I kept fiddling with the ring on my left hand.  I still haven't gotten used to wearing the ring, and I'm often playing with it.  As I started my comeback against the best guy in the league, the mantra I kept saying to myself was, "Use the power of the ring."

It was corny and superstitious and irrational, but it was fun.


Since that time I have not lost a match in my new league.  After winning my last three matches in the summer league, I ran the table (7-0) in the fall league, and have now won the first two matches in the playoffs.

As a married man, I've won 12 straight singles league matches. (Full disclosure: I've lost some practice matches/sets, and I've lost a lot in doubles.)

Apparently marriage agrees with my tennis game.

This league I joined-- which I found using The Google-- has a playoff tournament at the end of the year, which is something I've never done before.  Qualifying for the playoff tournament is based on an intricate point system that ranks all of the players at my level.  I love shit like this.

My original goal was the qualify for the playoffs.  Since I hadn't been here to play in the spring season, and points were accumulated over the whole year, I knew I'd have to have a strong showing in the fall to qualify.  Not only did I have a strong showing (I went 7-0 and only lost 1 set), but of the 177 guys at my level, I had the most points for the fall session.  I made the playoffs!  

If you qualify for the playoffs, you have to be available to play in the final four in Aurora ("Wayne's World! Wayne's World!") in late October.  Aurora is way the fuck out in the southwestern suburbs.  To get there from the north shore, where I live, is 50 miles through gridlocked suburban traffic.  Depending on traffic, it could be a two-hour drive.  So I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of driving there, but my love of tennis and playoffs and competition over-rode that.  I figured if I lost before then, my consolation would be I didn't have to drive to Aurora.

My first two matches in the tournament have been surprisingly easy.  I won the first 6-3, 6-2, and the second was embarrassingly easy, 6-0, 6-1.  That match was so anticlimactic that afterward I went for a bike ride just to get more exercise.  I'm now in the quarterfinals, the round of 8, and if I win my next match I get to go to Aurora.

Now that I'm one match away, I really, really-- really!-- want to go to Aurora. I've had this date tentatively blocked out on my calendar for weeks.  The organizer sent out an email this week about the final four "Super Saturday", with schedules and details about the event.  I'm salivating at the idea of being a part of it.

Can you guess the connection between Freddie Mercury and Aurora?


I still have one match to go.  My next opponent will definitely be tougher than the first two guys I beat up on.  We're playing tomorrow, and the high for the day is 46 degrees.  I've never played tennis is such frigid conditions before. I just have to remind myself that this is for fun, it's not about winning.  But going to Aurora will be so much more fun!  The thing about a tournament is, you want to keep winning so you get to play more.   

I know by wanting it this bad, by thinking about it, and writing about it and preparing for it, I'm jinxing it. My only hope is that writing about my fears I can jinx the jinx.  If I write about how I might choke, or lose one match before qualifying for Aurora, or break my 12-match winning streak, maybe I can avoid it.  I really don't know if I've been lucky or good or what during this winning streak.  (Probably a little of both.)  I've played doubles twice in the past week and gotten my butt kicked.  So that has kept me humble.  I'm not really as good as my winning streak would indicate.

Anything can happen. I have no idea how good my opponent is or how we'll match up.  Or whether I'll play well or not. 

But I do have a backup plan.  If I don't go to Aurora, I'll just stay home and sob.  And let my wife console me. 


Did I make it to Aurora?   Read the exciting conclusion here:

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Inspired by an anonymous old friend, I decided I might try telling some of my old stories on this here blog.  Since this one is already written and edited, I'll start with the text of the story I told at the Storytelling event I performed at a few weeks ago.  Just imagine me standing up and telling this story in front of a crowded coffeehouse.

Action photo of me storytelling!


After my shower I find Nikole lying on the bed, curled up on her side in the fetal position. What’s wrong? I ask. She won’t talk to me.

We were having a great weekend, staying in the small German village where she grew up. We’d been to her brother’s wedding. We’d gone swimming, snuggled on the couch, had lots of great conversations. And after an awkward trip to the small village pharmacy, where I’d very publicly bought condoms, we’d even enjoyed some afternoon delight. We were having a great time.

So why the abrupt change in her mood? Then it hits me. “You read my journal, didn’t you?”

My journal was a record of all my thoughts, impressions, and adventures in Germany. Officially, I was in Germany to study the syntax of modern Germanic languages at the University of Stuttgart, but my studies took an entirely different turn when I met Nikole.


She was a German grad student who was preparing to take her masters exam in English, and was looking for a native speaker to practice her English with. In exchange, she would help me practice my German.

The first time we met we talked for three hours. She was impressed with my German and admired my Nebens├Ątze. Although we enjoyed the conversation, neither of us was smitten from our first meeting. She told me later her first impression of me was, “Oh, he’s harmless.” The second time we met we talked for 4.5 hours, and a conversation that started out in the library moved on to McDonald’s, and eventually ended up at the Irish pub.

For our first official date, we went back to the Irish pub a week later, on St. Patrick’s Day. We got drunk, went back to her place, and continued our conversation horizontally.

The next day, I would write in my journal, “I guess now you could say I have a girlfriend. I really like Nikole. She’s smart, funny, and affectionate. She’s so cute. This morning she told me I have a wonderful body temperature. No one’s ever told me that before. I’m not even sure what it means, but I like it.”

Nikole had once heard a theory that people learn a foreign language best in bed, and this proved true. My German reached a whole new level once I started sleeping with a native.


For her birthday in early May, I wrote her a poem-like thing where I quoted all these things I’d written about her in my journal. She liked it.

But she wouldn’t like everything in my journal. In addition to a record of my experiences, my journal was also my therapy, where I wrote out all my hopes and fears and anxieties. Sometimes I wrote about doubts I had.

As Nikole lays there on her bed, not talking to me, my mind races through all the things I wrote. A knot forms in my stomach. There were the times I’d wondered if we were going too fast. The times when I went back and forth between apathy and excitement toward her. And there was the time I talked about how Nikole was not the type of girl I was usually attracted to. She didn’t have that “cute American look” that my previous girlfriend had had.

Yes, I’d kept a written record that compared physical attributes of two of my girlfriends. It was a stupid move that I would pay for for the next 2 years. After Nikole read that, she was convinced that I thought she was ugly.

I did not think she was ugly. She big bushy curly black hair that I liked, cute nerdy glasses that turned me on, and adorable facial expressions. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the sex was great, too. More importantly, we connected on an intellectual level that I never had with any other girl.  Nikole gave great conversation. But after she read my journal, Nikole didn’t see any of that. She thought I thought she was ugly. She no longer trusted me.

It is perhaps ironic that she read my journal, violated my privacy, and yet she was the one who lost trust in me. Over the next two years, she would obsess about what I found ugly about her. Her nose? Her skin? Her ass?


A year later, I come home to find Nikole once again laying on her side in the fetal position on the bed. This time it is our bed, in our apartment, in the U.S. town where she’s moved to so we can be together.

She has decided that we are not right for each other. We are not going to end up together. Despite this pronouncement, she makes no move to end the relationship. I do not take it seriously.

One time we are out shopping when we ran into Ann. Nikole knows that Ann was a girl I asked out a few years ago. Nikole studies Ann, and compares her to pictures of my ex-girlfriend, and other girls I’ve been interested in. Nikole goes nuts trying to find a common characteristic, something that defines my “type.” But I didn’t have a single “type”. I’m attracted to lots of different women. But I’m in love with her.

After 8 months of hearing from Nikole how wrong we are for each other, I am finally convinced. “Ok,” I say. “Let’s break up.” That night I sleep on the sofa bed, but when I wake up in the morning, Nikole is sleeping next to me, snuggling up. I guess I wasn’t clear enough, so I say, “As of this moment, we are broken up.” Then things get real ugly. The phrase “fucking asshole” is hurled at me with a slight German accent.

After the dust settles, and Nikole moves out, she still won’t let go of the ugly issue. She sends me an email. “Now that we’re broken up, can you please tell me what it was you found so unattractive in me?” I refuse. Of course I’m ready to end things with her, but it isn’t her looks that I find ugly about her, it’s her insecurities.

The punchline to this story is, ever since we broke up, whenever I see a girl with big bushy black hair, nerdy glasses, and adorable expressions that remind me of Nikole, I think, “Oh, she’s cute.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Story About The Story

The theme of the story I was to tell was "ugly."

I had one really good story that I'd have to shoehorn into the theme, and one story that fit the theme really well, but wasn't as good of a story.

Story A is about a crazy lady I lived with in Germany, a paranoid schizophrenic host mother who was convinced the neighbors were out to get her.  It's by far the most interesting thing that's ever happened to me, very funny and entertaining.  But to fit with the theme, I'd have to talk about this "ugly" experience, or how "ugly" mental illness can get.  

A fancy silver shoehorn
Story B is about an ex-girlfriend who was convinced I thought she was ugly.  Not very entertaining and definitely not funny, but fit the theme perfectly.    

Which story to tell?


So I've become involved in a storytelling troupe.  Since I moved to Chicagoland, this is the only social thing I've done that doesn't involve Katherine or tennis.

Every month they host storytelling shows centered around a certain theme.  It's all very low-key and casual.  There are no workshops or discussions on how to tell a story, they just hold events and invite people to tell stories. They had no idea if I was any good or not when they invited me to tell a story for their October show.  Neither did I.

But I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch with my creative side.  So I volunteered to do some public speaking.  For fun.  They say that public speaking is the #1 fear people have, and here I am giving speeches in my free time.

As I was obsessively preparing my story, Katherine kept asking me, "Is this fun?"  I didn't look like I was having fun, but sometimes fun isn't just about fun, you know?  Sometimes you do things that terrify you a little bit in order to feel alive.


I had three weeks to prepare my story.  I decided to go with Story A, the crazy German host mother shoehorned into the "ugly"  theme.  It's a story I'd had in written form for many years, but had never found a formal audience for.  It's called "32 Short Stories About Frau Steiner."  What makes the story so good is that, although I only lived with this nutbag for three days, I accumulated 32 (at least) anecdotes about how crazy she was.

This has nothing to do with Frau Steiner, other than it came up during a Google image search for "nuts."
So I edited the manuscript for brevity and started memorizing and practicing parts of it.  After two weeks, I was about halfway through the memorization process and making good progress.  Then a week before the performance the organizers sent out an email with the guidelines for our stories.  The first line devastated me:  "Story must be no longer than 7 minutes..."  I'd been planning for a 15-to-20-minute story.  Seven minutes?  Who can tell a story in 7 minutes?

I rehearsed the Frau Steiner story with a stopwatch, and when I hit 22 minutes and still had about 5 sections to go, I lost all hope.  I'd already cut out a lot of details, and I thought about trying to take a hacksaw to it to get into the time limit, but then I gave up.  There's no way to tell this kind of story in 7 minutes.  What makes the story so good is the sheer volume of crazy things she did.

So with a week before my performance, and two weeks of preparation down the drain, I started over completely.  I decided to tell Story B about my ex-girlfriend who one day read my journal, misinterpreted it, and decided that I thought she was ugly.

First I had to write the story.  I'd had parts of it written down from other sources: the story of how we met, emails, and the journal in question.  I just had to put it all together.

After a few days of writing it and mostly memorizing it, I delivered it and timed myself.  It was 12 minutes.  Fuck!  How the hell am I supposed to tell a story in seven minutes!?!?   This was the short story, the one that wasn't even that long or interesting.               

I started cutting things out, but that just seemed to make the story even less interesting.  It was like a bullet list of boring events.  "Just the facts, ma'am."

As I was struggling with this, I went back to the email the organizers had sent out that had guidelines for the stories.  It also included storytelling tips, and links to storytelling how-tos from other organizations.  What I realized was that my story didn't really show, it only told. I've known for a long time that good writing doesn't just tell you what happened, it shows you.  It illustrates.  It makes you see and feel what the people in the story are seeing and feeling.

So I scrapped the whole story (again!)  and re-wrote it, starting with a very pivotal scene-- the moment when I discover that my girlfriend has read my journal, and how terrifying that was.

I wrote, practiced, re-wrote, and re-practiced.  I'd thoroughly worked and memorized every section of the story, which was now only 3 pages long.  The day before the performance, I practiced the whole thing from beginning to end with a stopwatch.  It was 8:10 (eight minutes and ten seconds.)  That was good enough.  I decided to practice it once an hour.

Over the next two days I practiced it six times.  I kept a log of the day, time, and how long each performance was.  The times were 8:10, 7:50, 8:12, 8:47, 8:12, and 8:35.  Clearly it looked to be a little over eight minutes long.  Most of the times I practiced it in front of the bay window in our living room, staring out into the street.  (People walking by must have wondered what the crazy guy was doing talking to the window.)

The last time I practiced it in our basement, to an audience of a sleeping cat, two trophies, and two stuffed animals.

My enthralled practice audience
 (I had planned to practice it in front of my wife, but she was unavoidably detained that day and couldn't make it home in time. Which was just as well, I was ambivalent about sharing a story about my ex-girlfriend with her.)                


I showed up way early at the coffee house where we were supposed to perform.  They told me that my story would be third.

As I listened to the first two stories, I realized that mine wasn't nearly as funny as theirs.  The first guy told a wacky story about a horrible date he'd had, and the second lady told a story about being a bully in junior high (but in a funny way.)  I thought about my own story and what lines might get laughs, but it wasn't really that kind of story.  It was ultimately about how my ex obsessed about her appearance, and what I really found ugly about her was not her body, but her insecurity.  Insightful?  Possibly.  But not funny.

I went ahead and told the story, and it did get some laughs.  There were some funny parts in the first half where I talk about how we met.  I only flubbed one or two lines, but for the most part I delivered it as I'd rehearsed it.   

Incidentally, I timed some of the other stories, and many of them were way too long.  One was even 15 minutes. Whatever. At least I know how to follow rules. So I've got that going for me.   

People were gracious and told me afterward what a great job I did, but I don't know if they meant it or were just being nice.  Anyway, it was a fun, terrifying experience, and I probably will do it again some time.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Old, The Lonely, and The Crazy

So I'm back working at a public library for the first time in 16 years.  It's only been a few months, but one thing I've learned in that time is that public libraries have been become a refuge for The Old, The Lonely, or The Crazy.  (Often all three of those are found in one person.)  A large portion of my time is spent answering questions from people who don't have the google, have too much time on their hands, or want answers to things we can't possibly know. 

There's the old lady who will call 3 times in one evening shift for various random questions, and while I'm trying to answer the question will make a disgusting sucking sound with her teeth.  ("Will the robins or sparrows in my back yard migrate?" Um, there are 32 different kinds of sparrows, and I don't know which ones are in your back yard.)  When I answer her question, then she just wants to chat.  By now she knows my name, so she'll say, "Tim, you sound so young.  How old are you? You must be in your 20's!  No?  30's then?"   

There's the grumpy, crotchety old man who gets impatient if I take too long or ask any clarifying questions.  "Don't make a mountain out of a molehill, just answer the question!"  Yes, sir, that's exactly what I'm trying to do, but I can't tell you who was "buried in African water" until I can define what "African water" means.  "Water!  You know what water means!  W-A-T-E-R!"  He'll point to the monitor and demand, "Just type it into the computer!"

There's the man who calls five times a day to ask what's on TV, and when we say, for example, that the show he wants is on NBC, he wants to know which number that is.  There are 14,000 different cable/satellite providers in Chicagoland, but he doesn't know which one he has.   

One guy called to tell me he saw a guy on the bus rubbing something into his neck and hands that had a menthol smell to it.  He wants to know what it was.  It wasn't medicinal (like Ben Gay), but he also wouldn't let me call it a "cologne."  It was a "scent."  He did not see the tube or bottle it came out of.  The closest thing I could find for him was something called Tiger Balm.  I suggested that maybe the next time he ask the guy what it is.   


For the second year in a row, on my birthday I've yelled at my sister Debbie on Facebook. I remember last year on my birthday being a crappy mood because I went off on her that her crazy rants about our president on FB were starting to sound like a confused old man yelling at an empty chair.    

 I've done a good job lately of avoiding political posts on FB and on this blog, but every once in a while they bubble up.  The recent one was when I heard about Republicans trying to defund Obamacare a week before the major part of it will be implemented.  This is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag, since they have no chance of succeeding.  Obamacare is happening, and even Republicans admit that once it's fully implemented, it will be too hard to repeal because it will be too popular.  So they're clawing and scratching to sink it before it starts.  So I posted this on FB:
Imagine if we lived in a country where whole swaths of the population were NOT working as hard as they can to make our nation's first black president a failure. Imagine if they did what was best for our country and worked with him to make the most significant social program of our generation a success. Imagine if they simply stood out of the way and let his novel idea of providing health care to all Americans a chance to work. Because trying to defund a program before it's been fully implemented, and voting 40 times (!) to repeal a law that's not going away, and states refusing to participate in a program whose sole purpose is to keep your citizens healthy, well, you just look like an obstinate dick who cares more about your side winning than your country succeeding.      
I won't re-hash the whole thing here, but let's just say my sister Debbie (and her husband Denny, which I suspect was Debbie also, accidentally logged into his account, because she's as confused about using FB as she is about politics) and I got into another raging political debate, which left me in a bad mood about my ignorant fundamentalist sister.  


Yesterday one of our reference assistants referred a question to me.  I was supposed to call this guy back who had a grammar question about "pass tense (sic.)"  So, armed with books and websites about English past tense rules, I called the patron.

He tells me that he's trying to write a radio ad, but he's not sure if his use of past and present tense is correct.  He tries to explain it, but then he says, "Let me just read what I have written, and you'll see what I'm talking about."

He has a lovely deep radio voice, so I'm a little taken aback when he starts reading,  "Barack starts his study of socialism and marxist propaganda under ...."

His question is about past and present tense, but the subject matter immediately makes me tense.   

My hackles are raised.  The 60-second radio spot is a total hack job on Obama and his "socialist agenda."  At one point it mentions Obama's previous job as a community organizer as a front for socialist propaganda.

As he's reading this, I look at the website that I had open about using past tense: Here are the examples they use on this page:
  • You called Debbie.
  • Did you call Debbie?
  • You did not call Debbie.
Is the Universe mocking me?  First I have this fight with my sister Debbie on FB, then this nutjob on the phone is reading me his Obama attack ad, while I'm looking at sample sentences with my sister's name?

In the end, the guy didn't need any authoritative grammar sources.  He just needed me to confirm for him that if he uses present tense throughout the whole ad, it does indeed sound weird to switch to past tense for the last part.  I made no comments whatsoever about the content of his ad.  I'm a professional, after all.     

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Goldilocks and The Three Roofing Estimates

Our new house needs a new roof.  We knew this when we bought it, and the inspector said it had to be done soon.  (Since I didn't have a new job yet when we bought it, and we weren't married at the time, and I still own my other house, Katherine bought this house on her own.  Since she bought me a house, I said that I would pay for the roof by myself.  It also means I can I say I put a roof over our heads.)

Roof Over Your Head Day?  Seriously?

So I called three roofing companies to get estimates.

The first was a local company with a really good reputation.  They made a scant, cursory inspection the roof without ever consulting with me.  The estimate was not very descriptive, just a short paragraph. And the price was $3000 more than the others.

The first estimate was too cold

The second guy was so friendly and personable on the phone I thought, "Wow, he sounds like he'd be pleasant to work with."  He came over for the estimate, and he was very chatty.  We learned that we're both the youngest of five children, and that his name is Dan with a brother named Tim.  My name is Tim with a brother named Dan!  He walked all through my house, looking in the attic and the basement, helping me to figure out where a leak in the basement might be coming from.  He kept commenting on things that have nothing to do with the roof, and made suggestions about products I should buy.  Then he went up on the roof and rooted around there for like 30 minutes.  He came back inside and sat down with me at the dining room table and continued to talk at me for another half an hour.  By this time Katherine had to go into work, so I had to say goodbye to her while this guy continued to talk.  He kept telling me not to believe all the "smoke and mirrors" that roofers are going to give me.  About how the warranties are really useless.  And then told me all about his warranties.  He spoke at length about "synthetic roofing underlayment," which is supposed to be way superior to the traditional felt underlay.  (Afterwards I looked it up, and it seems like the biggest advantage to the synthetic stuff is that it's easier to install.  Which doesn't concern me, because I'm not putting it on myself anyway. That's what I'm paying the roofer to do.)

So after the guy finally left I was so annoyed with him that I thought I don't even want to work with him even if he gives me the best estimate.  He was trying way too hard to be chummy, and was also trying way too hard to prove to me how much better he was than the other roofers.

When the estimate did come, it was addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Tim Mylastname."  Uh, what is this, 1950?  The estimate itself was two pages long, with tons of optional add-ons.

The third company had a guy come out, he got a little bit of information, talked to me for maybe five minutes, went up on the roof, then told me he'd send an estimate.  The estimate was lower than the others, with three options for differently-priced shingles, and two options for add-ons (new gutters and/or a new chimney.)  All of this seemed very reasonable.  It wasn't too much information and it wasn't too little.  It was just right.


When I called the third company to tell them I wanted to go with them, the guy was very friendly and happy we'd chosen them.  He came over again to discuss shingles and a schedule and to get the deposit, and when I asked him about the other guy's explanation for the leak in the basement, he said the other guy was absolutely wrong.  So, there's also that.  He made one comment about my collection of beer bottles in the basement, but not in a desperate, stalkery, trying-to-hard-to-be-my-friend way like the other roofer.  He was the kind of guy I'd like to do business with: competent, trustworthy, and not getting all up in my business. 

My bottle collection, tastefully admired by my new roofer


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Drama on the Bathroom Floor

You know that scene in that movie where a spouse collapses in their partner's arms-- maybe it's a from a heart attack, or a stroke, or a stray bullet-- and the spouse cradles them in their arms and cries "Noooooooooo!  Stay with me, Flavio!!!!"  ?

That was me.

On the one full day between our wedding weekend and our honeymoon-- a valley between two major peak events in my life-- I lay on the bathroom floor, cradling my new bride's limp body in my arms and freaking the fuck out.  "Oh God, Oh God, Katherine!  Wake up!"  I yelled as she spewed vomit all over herself, her eyes rolling back in her head.  In that instant the entirety of the rest of my life flashed before me, and I saw myself as the tragic widower whose wife dies two days after the wedding, the day before the honeymoon.

For that brief terrifying moment, I was in a Lifetime Movie of the Week.

Miraculously (or not, as I would find out later), she woke up. She had no idea where she was, and said, "Tim?"  She didn't know why she was sitting on the bathroom floor and covered in goo.


Let's back up.  On the day before our honeymoon, when we had a bajillion things to do, we were just finishing up laundry when Katherine started to get an upset stomach.  She had to lie down.  Half an hour later I found her hunched over the bathroom sink, throwing up.  She had not thrown up since she was 15 years old, about 19 years ago, so it was pretty traumatic for her.

She went into the kitchen to recover and I cleaned up the mess.  Half an hour later she was feeling bad again, and went back into the bathroom.  I was all prepared to hold her hair as she "called Earl on the big white telephone", but before it happened, she told me she felt numb.  Then she went limp in my arms and fell to the floor.  I was there to catch her, but when she started vomiting while unconscious, I thought she was having a seizure or something.  I'd heard of people dying when they choked on their own vomit, so I tried to turn her on her side.    

When she regained consciousness I called an ambulance, and then called her parents and talked to her brother (who was still in town for the wedding), who is a doctor, and he asked me a bunch of diagnostic questions.  He did not think it was anything serious like a stroke or seizure.  The paramedics came, and when we told them that we were leaving for Iceland the next morning, they recommended we go to the hospital.  So we did.

After five hours of tests, IVs, observation, and anti-nausea medication, we were given the green light to return home and leave on our trip the next morning.  They hadn't found anything significantly wrong with her.  She just threw up and passed out.  It happens.

We came home at 9pm.  The laundry still needed to be put away, the bed needed to be made, and we had not yet started packing for an 8-day trip.  And we had to get up at 5:30 the next morning.  (When I was in the hospital I tried to postpone our flight for a day, but that would have cost more than the original tickets.)  Exhausted from the day's events, Katherine lay on the bed and directed me around the room to pack her stuff.

But we got everything together, left on our trip, and had a great time.  (More on that later.)  Katherine took anti-nausea medication for the first few days we were there, but otherwise she was fine.  She did, however, have to eat things that were light on her stomach the first day.

Her meal on the plane


Back to that movie scene.  As I was freaking out, cradling my wife's limp body on the bathroom floor, I wondered if this was one of those fork-in-the-road moments, when your life splits off into two very different destinies.  In one direction was the horrible horrible fate of losing the love of my life after two days of wedded bliss.  Of trying to put things back together right after I'd just started a new life. 

In the other direction was a short 5-hour detour to the emergency room.  What if, in that moment of decision, my life was paused and I was offered a choice?  Or I had to make some sort of cosmic deal?  And because of that deal or choice, I was sent back into the world with a different or alternative ending?  Katherine woke up, and I got to resume the trajectory my life had been on.

This is all very supernatural or science-fictiony, and I don't know how much I believe in it, but if you subscribe to the infinite universes theory, then somewhere there is a parallel universe where I did witness my bride's death on that bathroom floor.

In truth, she was never close to dying.  She just passed out from throwing up.  It's actually pretty common, according to the doctors.  It was just my panic and anxiety in the moment that made it feel like a much more dramatic scene that it was.  

And yay for that. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wedding Toast

So I'm married now.  (Again.)

The wedding weekend was amazing.  On Friday, it wasn't until after the rehearsal picnic was over that I realized how much fun I'd been having.  It's always a good sign when you're so distracted by your fun that you're not even aware of it.

So often, when there's a huge life event that you've been planning and looking forward to for a really long time, there's some letdown.  Some part of it doesn't live up to your expectations and you get disappointed.  For example, during dinner I noticed the carrots were just regular boring old steamed carrots, most definitely NOT maple-glazed carrots we had ordered. 

Do you see a glaze on these?

I said to Katherine, "Now the whole wedding is RUINED!"  My protestations might have had more gravitas if I hadn't made that same complaint several times already.  Katherine asked, "How many times has the wedding been ruined now?"

But on the whole, there were no serious letdowns. This may have more to do with not having too many specific expectations, but I can honestly say my wedding day was one of the best days of my life.


We planned and orchestrated our own ceremony-- with music, readings, and vows we'd written ourselves.  In addition to our vows, Katherine wanted to write some remarks that I wouldn't hear before the ceremony, and so to reciprocate I had to write something myself.  (So she gave me some homework for the wedding. She is a teacher, after all.)    

We decided not to include our "remarks"(as it's listed in the program) during the ceremony, but to give them during the reception, after dinner but before dessert, as a way to start off any toasts that people might want to make.

Here is what I wrote:

Katherine and I walk at the same speed.  I don’t mean this metaphorically.  We literally walk side by side at the same pace.  Neither of us has to slow down for the other, nor do we have to speed up to stay with the other one.  We walk together. 
I’ve always been a fast walker.  When I’m in a crowd, or caught on the sidewalk behind someone, 90% of the time they are going too slow for me.  Even kids half my age will amble along, slowing me down, and I’ll think, “Why are they going so sloooow? They’re young and spry!”  At my first opportunity I will try to pass them so I can resume my regular walking speed.
So it was quite a delight for me when I discovered that Katherine is another fast walker.  Not only do we both enjoy walking, but we match each other’s gait.   Whether we’re hiking in the woods, exploring a neighborhood, discovering a new city on vacation, or just going for a stroll after dinner, we keep up with each other.  We zip pass the slow people together and continue our brisk pace.   Katherine neither slows me down nor pushes me.  And vice-versa.   
 I’m being literal, but there is an obvious metaphor here.  It’s important to find a life partner who moves at the same speed.  To be “on the same page,” if I may mix a metaphor. In general, we have the same values and want the same things out of life.  We both love spreadsheets, the outdoors, books, cats, and travel.  
Although Katherine and I often move at the same speed, the metaphor does not extend to every part of our lives.  We don’t agree on everything.  I watch too much TV for her tastes, and she is way more focused on dessert than I am.   I am a morning person, and she... is not.  (I learned early on not to try to have conversations during breakfast.)  And we disagreed a lot while we were unpacking in our new home.  (My position: we have too many things.  Her position: We need more space.)  
One thing I’ve learned from other successful married couples is that dealing with and resolving differences is a valuable skill.  The successful couple is not one that never disagrees, but that knows how to resolve conflict with good communication and compromise.  After planning several vacations and a wedding together, I’m confident that Katherine and I are quick learners in this area.
I used to think that what I wanted in a wife was someone who was a Good Person.  (Capital G, capital P, “Good Person.”)  But what I’ve learned, and heard many other people offer this same advice, is that a good partner is not measured by their qualities alone, but by the person you become when you’re with them.  Katherine makes me a better person.  I’m more patient, tolerant, and calm around her.   She’s a teacher, and she’s good at inspiring me to try harder.  When we do get (metaphorically) out of synch, she will either slow me down or push me to walk a little faster, depending on the situation.  And I do the same for her.   
Several different members of my family have remarked lately about how happy and relaxed I seem around Katherine.    I didn’t realize it was that obvious, but I do know I’m a lot happier now with her in my life. 
I think my whole life I’ve been anxious because I had a lot of nervous energy, and now I’m relieved to have finally found someone who takes me on regular walks, and keeps up with me.  
So I’d like to toast my new wife and walking partner, Lady Katherine of Evanston. Where ever the path leads in our new life together, I will be right there next to you.