Live! From Hurricane Alley

Welcome to the eighth year of 2020! I’m probably not the first to say that, but I’m the funniest, right? Right? … Ah well.

Jokes aside, this period has seemed and been for many the longest and most difficult ever. Especially here in the good ol’ US of A, it feels like the Covid crisis will never end. Still so many deaths, and even for those who survive they are changed for good in as yet unknown ways. This without mentioning our myriad personal struggles. I will be all too happy to put this 365 days behind us, if that actually makes any difference.

So, I’ve been back at work for just over two months now, and things in that setting are starting to catch up to the times. They have constructed pods of plastic around my primary section, which centers around a conveyor belt onto which boxes of light sticks are flung. With the frontal barrier of the wooden boxes that contain the sticks and the small boxes we must fill, it does make one feel significantly safer and more socially distanced. The only nerve-wracking thing is sometimes we work at open tables where people are sitting relatively close together. Thus far though, I hope, I’m fine.

Outside of slogging continuously through these workdays, I really go to and from that job and spend the rest of my time at home. I miss vacations, but do not yet feel entirely safe taking them either. Our last trip of sorts was to Tampa Florida in January, where it was a lot colder than it should have been. According to my scientific, randomized poll that I administered via Twitter, 28% of you are planning to travel somewhere at least 100 miles by car for a vacation, while the rest will do as we are and indulge in a staycation. Well that will leave a lot of time for some good reading at least, and I am on pace to shatter my record of 60 books consumed in one year.

And oh yeah! To add to the excitement, here in North Carolina we’re about to get a relatively small hurricane. That is actually the most “normal” thing that has happened in the last few months. Isaias, one of the more unusual names I’ve ever heard of for a storm. According to a cursory Internet search, Isaias is something of another name for The biblical prophet Isaiah. Interesting. We’ll probably get some tropical storm-force winds and all oto ain,and. I’ll likely hang here in the crib and, if power holds, get some stuff done. I think our pandemic numbers are finally starting to trend in the right direction, and I just hope that continues amid the storm. And of course that we all stay safe.

The ADA At 30: On Employment Challenges and Freelancing Opportunities

Today, the Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30! Just under 11 years younger than I am, and having been there for me in some capacity for the whole seventeen years I have fought and pounded for some kind of employment. Without question, this document has made things better for those of us with disabilities, and from my perspective especially for us blind and low-vision folks. But I would probably get little argument in saying that things are nowhere near where they need to be.

For starters, most of us blind individuals are not employed at all. I think the number is still something like 70%, a staggering figure that those without disabilities would never fathom. Among those of us who do work though, most are either in Ability One manufacturing facilities such as my current employer LCI, state rehabilitation agencies like the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, or with local, state, or federal government. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those positions of course. I only wish that we had full access to the depth and breadth of the job market.

Unfortunately though, attempts to penetrate the private sector are still too often met with barriers like an unwillingness to accommodate, or even placing requirements, like usable vision and a driver’s license, in descriptions who’s essential functions would not indicate a need for them. After all, technology and apps that make it easier than ever to summon a driver even in many rural places abound, and even if these are not available I still think that the would-be employee should only need to prove that he or she has an adequate and reliable way to get from point A to point B in any position where driving is not the primary job objective to be given a chance.

The good news for those of us who are blind, and I suppose to some extent for those with any disabilities, is that the job landscape is rapidly changing. As this opinion piece on NBC points out, the ADA does not specifically mandate digital accessibility. What I believe it has done though is to make everyone, even up to large tech companies like Apple and Google more aware of its necessity. Thanks to that technology, we are finding it easier than ever to become freelancers. Remember my discussion some time ago about becoming a book reviewer and following my passion? Well I’m truly starting down that road, as I have been accepted to and am now writing reviews for a site called Reedsy Discovery. My first review, for which I had to crash through a 500-page book in a week with VoiceOver, the iPhone’s screen reader, set to a speech rate of 70%, is live! You’re supposed to be able to read it, and if you enjoyed it to leave a small tip of $1, $3, or $5. For some reason, my tip button is not yet working. Also, if you think you would like to review books for this site just go through my referral link to apply, and I’ll receive a nice kickback from the site. I’m pretty excited by this development, as if nothing else it should really allow me to build a name for myself while bolstering indie authors, a group whose careers I am always willing to promote.

So yes we with disabilities have futures that some of those who put their lives and bodies on the line for 30 years ago to get the ADA, our Civil Rights act, passed could hardly imagine. My hope though is that in the next 30 years, a much larger slice of this community will be able to partake, with the creation of policies that give us a better chance of breaking free of poverty and exploring our true potential without fear of losing whatever benefits and services we need to thrive (and that topic could be a whole post, believe me). In the meantime, Happy 30 to the ADA.

Three Books: On Whitney Houston, Jessica Simpson, and Alicia Keys

The desire to sing and make music is among humanity’s most important qualities. Whether you can or can’t “sing,” (and who makes that call anyway) you probably at least find yourself tapping your toes in the shower and either silently mumbling or belting out a favorite tune.

With favorite tunes in mind and locating three memoirs about them, I decided that the next installment in my “Three Books” series would be on life as a musician as seen through their, or a friend’s, eyes. My chosen titles are as follows:

A Song For You, My Life With Whitney Houston, by Robyn Crawford
Open Book, by Jessica Simpson
More Myself: A Journey, by Alicia Keys.

Each of these stories shed a slightly varied but surprisingly similar light on what life is like as someone who becomes famous for her voice and must do battle with external and internal forces.

Book Summaries

Whitney Houston

In Whitney’s case, as told by her long-time friend Robyn Crawford, she primarily struggled with drug addiction and an almost unhealthy desire to be liked by men. First though, as many probably know, she was rumored to have a deeper relationship with Crawford because of their hanging and living together. Crawford actually wrote this book in large part to dispel the theories and share the truth, which is that they did have a brief romantic partnership but Whitney ended it in light of her budding career.

As the story unfolds, we see how close Crawford still remained to “Nippy,” as she and many others called Houston at the time. I think the reason for this nickname is given, but am unable to recall what it is. Anyhow, as Whitney rises in popularity, she continues to eschew the drugs she and her friend have shared for many years. But the lure is always too strong, and eventually Crawford points out her concerns to Whitney’s family, whom she makes it clear are not particularly high on her like list. Sadly, most of us know how Whitney’s story ends, but reading the twists and turns that get us there is informative and unsettling.

Jessica Simpson

Jessica Simpson’s story is still unfolding of course, but as told in her memoir the biggest challenge she seems to have faced is finding the right man. I had no idea that Nick Lashay, the lead singer of 98 Degrees, was so nasty to her leading up to their parting. Granting that there are multiple sides to every story, the unrest this and other failed relationships caused is surprising. We see her initially cover the resulting feelings by having a child, but soon have to fight back from alcoholism.

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys, one of my two wives many years ago, (an old Live Journal post, remember that?) seems to have had the most uneventful life of almost any celebrity I’ve read about. I don’t suppose she ever got into drugs or alcohol, at least not as written, and she had relatively few problems with men. Her story thus largely focused on the lack of a strong relationship with her father, which saddened her deeply, and feelings about women’s image in the media. On the latter point, the book begins with a dis turning portrait that drives home the real issues that arise when we insist too heavily on some societal standard of female beauty rather than letting everyone express herself however she wishes. Her story overall is the most placid of the three, but inspires and makes one think.
All three authors narrate their own works in audio, with emphasis on different things. Crawford and Keys have the strongest voices, while Simpson makes the reader feel he is sitting in an armchair listening to her impassioned stories. She even clearly cries during certain segments, and does not bother to mask it. Keys pours her emotions out by actually singing to us portions of the songs she feels most strongly about. She also has various well-known guests, as well as people who represent some important part of her life, introduce many of the book’s chapters. Each of these stories, just as the musicians whom they are profiling, gives us a different slice of the human experience.

Bugging Out With the Mantis Q40: My Quick Take Review

Hey hey! Comin’ at ya from my new display. I have, after five years of great use with the Brailliant, acquired a Mantis Q40 from the American Printing House for the Blind. After all, technology marches on and this represents the potential fora significant upgrade. This machine has a full-sized laptop keyboard located above the row of Braille cells, which makes typing a lot easier and more intuitive.

I surprisingly received it yesterday. With APH’s ordering information, I had a hard time deducing when the device had actually shipped, and was thus kind of nervous and concerned until it finally arrived. After that, of course the rest of the day was spent playing with my new “toy”

So, first I had to familiarize myself with the display’s functioning by reading much of the user manual. It is relatively straightforward, but getting everything to work was… not. I would say the experience was similar to that when I first got my Brailliant five years ago, which is to say that a new device is going to have some issues. I think many of these are of Apple’s making, and I hope that they will be resolved sooon.

The primary issue I’m having, and just had as I typed this, is keeping the display connected to the phone via Bluetooth. It took four tries to even get some semblance of joining, and with each attempt after that the connection seemed to become more stable. Now, when it freezes periodically, I have only to go into the Bluetooth menu on my iPhone, disconnect and reconnect the display and it usually works. Obviously this would present long term challenges, but well we’ll see.

To find the positive: I love the machine’s size as they still manage to have a thin, very portable device with the full keyboard. The keys have nice spring and are just fun to type on, although the Braille bug that doesn’t let you type too fast, which has existed since iOS 11, is still a big nuisance. What was I saying about hope for a fix to these other problems soon? Yeah.

I also enjoy the crispness of the Braille, and find that I can now read at about 1.5 times the speed. Of what I used to manage. The thumb and panning buttons, while likely he Brailliant’s, are just a bi t smaller and perhaps more responsive in some way. So until the myriad writing stuff is reworked, I will likely most enjoy the reading experience.

So would I, in my short time having this device, recommend it? Well yes, and especially fort he educational//professional audience for whom it is most intended. As I mentioned before, typing is just easier than Braille in many respects, most notably when one must enter email and passwords, which even if I know the correct Braille symbols the translator just gets wrong. I would also recommend it for its charge, which seems lightning fast, and the replaceable batttery. This machine looks like it will hold up for at least another five years, and hopefully at some point I will be able to pound out my great American novel on it as well as to get back up to regular posting. There will be another probably in less than a wee k. Till then, have a good Fourth of July holiday.

On My Dad Mike, A Life

This has been, for my family and me, a tough day, one week before Father’s Day no less. The man who had been my father for 20+ years, Michael David Smith, has succumbed to cancer.

It’s funny, he had been a part of my life for so long that I’m a little fuzzy on when our first encounter occurred. 1995? 1996? I’m inclined to say the latter, because it was Fall and the beginning of football season, and the Panthers had already existed for a year. Mike, a child of the 60s long before North Carolina had a professional football team, was a Dallas Cowboys fan. I never missed a chance to give him grief over this, often saying “I will create a law that says you must pull for the team in your local area.” He sometimes quipped “then I guess we’ll be moving to Dallas.” (I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I had been a closet Cowboys fan before my beloved Cats took the field.

Anyhow, whenever Mike and I first met we immediately bonded. As I’ve written in my post about complex thoughts on fatherhood, I would often linger on the floor as his Atlanta Braves (MLB) played on the tv, and we would talk about anything and nothing for hours. Sometimes while watching basketball, he would tell me to stand up so that he could demonstrate a great play that had just occurred, often to comical and almost dangerous effect.

He would usually ask me to join him for grocery store runs during which he’d impart advice about finding and being with a good woman, at the end of which he would get me either my favorite candy or a can of Pringles, to which I was insanely addicted in those days. Then there were the innumerable Jeopardy shows and our friendly competitions, usually he was far better at pop culture and I knew my geography.

Not only did he embrace me wholeheartedly, but he took my cousins under his wing with ease and clear enjoyment. We had a stretch there from about 1997 to 2001 where our singing group, Off Da Top, fancied itself celebrities and performed in several talent shows. Along with my youngest sister, Mike would work with us on choreography and talk to us about his knowledge of the music business. He called himself our manager, and said we should change our group’s name to the Backseat Boys (long story for that name’s conception which you can read in an old Writing 101 post, but if we’d chosen it can you say lawsuit?)

I revel in these memories, and if anything I regret not having taken the time to make more of them. I hadn’t seen him too often, which is true of the rest of my family as well, in the last ten years. I hope that the rest of us can now start to rectify this, and am eternally grateful for my birthday dinner with him, my mom, and my in-laws that my wife organized, as it was the last time I saw him healthy. I remember the shock and sadness I felt when seeing him in the hospital bed this past November, as this last cruel journey began. I was overcome with depression, but I also prayed and hoped for the best. But as they say, death is a part of life and at some point we must all confront our mortality and that of those whom we love deeply.

To you, Mike: Thanks for letting me be your son and for your unconditional acceptance of me, even with the unusual package I present. I will always be grateful for your coaching and guiding me through my formative years and helping me to learn to be a good man to my wife and, I hope, a good human period. May you rest in peace.

Meanwhile, Back At The Plant: The end of my 72-day quarantine

THE CALL finally came that Tuesday after Memorial Day. No surprise, really, as I expected upon North Carolina’s entry into Phase 2 of Covid recovery (if one can call a record-breaking 1,000 cases a day a recovery. It’s got me terrified, truthfully). Anyhow, I knew my time relaxing and hiding inside would draw to an end soon.

The number originated from the Hazelhurst, Ms. Branch of my employer, so I initially didn’t take the call. “Hello, this is a message from LCI for John Miller about coming to work.” So, I tapped the number, returned the call, and affirmed hat I would return on Monday June 1.

After discussing it with my wife for a time, we decided that at least for the time being it would be easiest if she takes me in and picks me up, when possible, because as noted in a previous entry dealing with public transit or Go Cary Door-to-Door presents a number of challenges in this environment. And honestly it’s working out a lot better for me, as I can wake 40 minutes later and depart the apartment only 20 minutes before my 7 AM shift begins. I could actually wake even later if I wanted, but I like having a little time to quickly check out podcasts and news as I get ready.

So the first week has ended now, and mostly it went well. Monday was long, as I had to re-remember how I get through the day without music or books except on breaks. And without being able to take the random nap, which was a little problematic that first day as my still-recouping gums let me feel not pain really, but a little pressure. The least fun part was wearing that mask for eight hours. My nose was stinging by day’s end, as I had breathed so much air into my own face. I know it is absolutely necessary to wear it though, and washed my hands whenever possible along with sanitizer when too far away from a sink. I certainly do not want the ‘rona, and don’t want to pass it onto my coworkers either, if I can help it.

The only glitch in this week occurred on Wednesday, when I awoke to a non-functioning right-side hearing aid. It started working after an hour or so, sort of, but I knew that it was still time to get both aids retuned. I’m amazed they’d gone a year and a half without requiring service, definitely far better than I got out of my previous aids, but they usually need to be tended to as soon as the heat and humidity arrive.

Covid protocol meant that I had to give the aids to the office receptionist, who came out to the car to collect them, then sit there for 20 minutes in silence while they were repaired. But as usual, when they were returned to me I marveled at how much louder and clearer everything was. The changes in hearing level are so subtle that they can go unnoticed until corrected.

And for the most part, that makes up the news of my return to work. Nothing groundbreaking really, but the week was nice in the sense that I felt great each workday, even managing to get enough sleep to be functional. That time off definitely helped me to get my health back in order, and for that first week at least, I reaped the benefits. Let’s hope this continues, and I sure hope that sometime soon my state, the nation, and the world can begin to find the path to healing that 2020 so badly needs.

To The Max: On HBO’s New App and Accessibility Challenges

Yay, Fresh Prince is finally available through streaming. This was my thought as soon as they rolled out HBO Max this past Wednesday, as I’d heard that this one of already so many streaming services would be the one to cary that show. So I knew I would immediately try to get it and see what, if anything, they have in the way of accessibility.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

Trials and Travels: A Comparison of 3 Recent Reads

Isn’t it funny how, without intending to do so, one can end up selecting three books for simultaneous reading that seem to share the same underlying themes? Well truthfully of late, all of my chosen titles are alike in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. Examples are four straight books that featured persons with diabetes, and five (six?) With some kind of painter character.

Given that, I could randomly pick any grouping I wish and make them work as a collection. But the three I’m going with here are Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain; Ghosts of Harvard, by Francesca Serritella; and Three Ways To Disappear, by Katy Yocom. Each of these stories is driven by the crazy things that can happen as a result of a mother’s love and/or her mistakes, mental illness, and big secrets. The secrets I shall not give away, at least to the best of my ability, because they represent big plot twists and might therefore be considered spoilers. I will, however, do a brief summary of each title and then talk about how they compare and contrast.

Chamberlain

This book caught my interest because it is set in North Carolina, as a quick perusal of this author’s catalog shows is common for her. The past meets the present as Anna Dale, born in the late 20s, is hired to paint a mural for the Edenton NC post office. (This is a real town, to which I’ve never been but I have heard of.) Being from the North, she encounters the kinds of racism and even outsider-ness that one would expect in a small Southern town of the day. She works with an African American named Jesse Williams who then becomes a major artist and makes as his last action a wish to have Morgan Christopher help to restore the Dale painting and to be released from the prison where she is held for supposedly causing a drunk driving accident. We are then bounced back and forth in time over alternating chapters until the story’s apex.

Serritella

Whereas Chamberlain’s book takes place in a lesser-known small-town environment, this story is set at Harvard: a place we’ve all heard of but know little about. The amount of insider information Serritella, who went to that school also, provides through her characters’ observations is fascinating. Cadence (Cady) Archer has chosen to attend this university despite, and maybe in some ways because of, her brother Eric’s having taken his life there in the prior semester after a protracted struggle with schizophrenia. This is similar to Chamberlain’s book, in that Anna was driven to follow her artistic dreams after her mother died, perhaps of suicide, while experiencing bipolar disorder. In Serritella’s story, Cady’s mother has a particularly visceral reaction to her daughter’s choosing to attend Harvard, going as far as to withhold assistance on move-in day and skip out on the drive from Pennsylvania where they live. Of course, mom comes to regret this decision later, and its initial upset probably drives Cady to make many questionable decisions throughout. Then Cady’s life and experiences there takes a strange and rather interesting turn. Let’s just say you’ll quickly understanding the meaning of the title.

Yocom

This is also a story built largely on a mother’s regret for hastily made decisions and the depression, disguised as coldness toward her children, that she feels as a result. Opening in 1970s India, twins Sarah and Marcus, along with their older sister Quinn, who will later become something of a painter and raise twins of her own, live a privileged life of big houses, servants, and the like as their father works as a doctor in a local hospital. A tragedy befalls them and the family, minus the father and Marcus, relocate to the US.

Told alternately through Sarah’s and Quinn’s perspective, we see Quinn and her mother especially struggle with the events that occurred over there and the incomplete information they both have on what actually went down. I like how Yocum shows Sarah and Quinn telling the story as they remember it and in so doing demonstrates the fallibility of memory and ways we can so easily reshape it.

Sarah, on the other hand, has difficulties in establishing her own identity. She is ultimately drawn back to India to work in tiger preservation after a long but dangerous career as a journalist. It takes time, but Quinn eventually accepts Sarah’s choice to relocate and their relationship, maintained through email and expensive calls, is strengthened. After all, this book’s “present” is the year 2000, so the technology is not yet as robust.

I hope you enjoy any or all of these three semi-related but also rather different reads as much as I do. They all feature such lush landscapes and travel that they make for good consumption as my Stay-At-Home continues.

It’s Like Pulling Teeth: My unexpected run-in with an Oral Surgeon

If one is me, one asks the question how many different things can one endure in one year. Ah the craziness of 2020 continues.

So first the backstory: for something like the last year, I’ve noticed a slight protuberance in my jaw. It was a minor aggravation, and while I knew I needed to nip it in the bud at some point I just never really took care of it. Well ok, I can admit that it has more to do with a lack of desire to tangle with our medical system, which while it has big problems, especially as relates to how we Americans are expected to finance care, is actually pretty good. I’ve become something of an unwitting veteran in the last few months, as you know.

Anyhow, in the last three weeks or so, this lump seemed to grow at an alarming pace. My wife and I finally concluded that something needed to be done immediately to ensure that nothing more sinister than a tooth infection was going on. With the Covid pandemic, finding a dentist that will see me on short notice is a challenge. After being rejected by the UNC system, I just put the word “Dentist” into Google Maps and called the first place that came up: Zen Triangle Dentistry.We entered on Saturday shortly before 12 PM into a fairly small operation with roaring air purifiers and our masks on. They gave me a couple of quick, complicated X-Rays where I was instructed to hold my head completely still with no head clamp and while biting down on the teeth part in front of me. Do you know how difficult this is?

After palpating the lump and feeling along my neck to see if others existed, the two individuals who were checking me recommended that I go somewhere else to have it thoroughly checked to rule out the possibility of cancer. While I had already been aware of such a possible conclusion, having it spoken aloud made the rest of that weekend fraught with emotion. I just tried to hold it together and survive till Monday when we were finally able to visit an oral surgeon at High House Oral Surgery.

Entering this office early Monday morning after fortunately having been worked in for an emergency visit, I was immediately put at ease with yet another x-ray, this time with a clamp and a bar onto which I could hold, both of which made the process measurably easier to bear. The oral surgeon told us that he believed it to be an abscess that he could drain, despite its having appeared so prominently on the outside of my gum. The catch is that the tooth on that side would need to be pulled, and oh yeah while we’re at it we may as well get the other two bottom teeth on the opposite side that have also grown in wrong. AAAHHH! When compared with what I thought would be the outcome though, suddenly an involved dental surgery didn’t seem so daunting.

So once we got the bill squared away, and it was of course high but not as high as I thought such procedures would be, we were ready to go. I was surprised that they were so quickly able to go ahead with the process. Everyone convinced me that, for various reasons, going under general anesthesia would be the best idea, and after the fact I have to say I am glad this choice was made. “The only real issue,” the surgeon said “is that sometimes you don’t wake up”. Well that’s scary, but it’s a risk you take I guess.

The feeling of getting ready for action was similar to what I had experienced in the Emergency room a little while ago with the heart thing. Cold EKG leads were stuck to various parts of my body, then an IV was inserted. I love my veins, as their easy visibility means a lot less pain for me. Then the automated blood pressure cuff was placed (my BP numbers are still good now which makes me happy), and the pulse monitor placed on my finger. I get nervous hearing the beep beep that indicates my heart beat, but then I also learned how to slow it down with my mind using bio feedback.

I reclined in the chair waiting, waiting, waiting… for things to start… and then I had gauze in my mouth and was being gingerly led to a waiting wheelchair to be rolled out. I, thankfully, have absolutely no memory of anything the was done. My wife says, though I counter that if it wasn’t recorded it didn’t happen, that my “high conversation” was hilarious. I let whatever thoughts popped into my brain slide right between my lips, which frightens me a little. That’s a big reason why I don’t like messing with control substances.

And so far so good. The only incident I almost had occurred Monday evening when, feeling normal while lying in bed, I thought I could head upstairs like normal and slurp down some mashed potatoes. And my body disagreed. I just kind of blacked out for ten seconds or so then headed back downstairs and into bed, where I needed to stay. I will find out tomorrow (Thursday) if all is as well as I hope, but I have been spending the week popping a variety of pills and trying to feel more and more like myself.

Have you ever had any kind of surgical intervention? According to my very unscientific Twitter poll, 58% of respondents say they’ve had more than one, 29% said only one, and the remaining folks said not at all. I guess there is always a first time for everything.

50 Days of Solitude: When and How To Return To Work

And it goes on and on and on and…

Almost eight weeks of mostly poking around the crib, trying to stay awake more than I sleep, and wondering what it all means. As states, including my own, tentatively begin reopening, I know that it is time for me to start contemplating what the “outside” is going to look like. One thing is for sure, it will not be anywhere near what it was for the foreseeable future.

I got a little taste of what to expect this past Saturday. My in-laws, needing supplies not readily available in their rural town and tired of being boxed in, decided to make their way up to oversupplied Cary to collect the gathered items. We paid them a short, appropriately socially-distanced and masked visit, just to say hello and talk to others for a change. Our hands grazed as we met, and I felt my own air pushed back into my face.

Ugh wearing that mask is not going to be comfortable, that much I know. Two good things about it though, I guess: A. You sure know how your own breath smells, and B. Others (hopefully) aren’t able to smell it. My wife did find some that are, well better than many, as they have a slightly cupped middle that gives you at least a little breathing room. I will of course wear them, as I understand that they are more for those who encounter me than for myself, but marbles. The eight-hour workday and transit to and for will be very long.

Speaking of transit, I am now trying to sack the admittedly somewhat involved system I had of taking GoCary’s Door-To-Door vehicle to the Cary train station and boarding the bus in favor of having the former take me all the way in. There are two main reasons why I hadn’t done this a long time ago. The first and most pressing is money: it costs just $2.50 to have them drive me to the station, but $8 to go all the way in. I think though that they have some kind of program that provides low-income individuals with a discount, so I will try and sign up for that and see what happens.

The second reason is more about my own needs I guess? I will feel more isolated, having little to no interaction with the wider community. I had gotten to know the five people I saw on a regular basis pretty well, and always enjoyed talking to them and whomever else I came across while waiting about any and everything. But with all these measures being put into place for who knows how long, I’m sure that such spontaneous encounters will not occur for a long time, and I might find it difficult to get assistance from others who wish to stay socially distanced. (I prefer to think of it more as physically distanced, as the last thing I need is to not socialize with folks in some way).

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I am hesitant about returning to work and will wait for them to call me back in while keeping a metaphorical eye (I’m blind after all) on the Covid numbers in North Carolina. I do hope things can get going soon, but I hope we don’t end up doing things too soon. We shall see.