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.

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).

RELATED: The Cary Characters

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.

At Home Post 2: On Finally Discovering My Passion

It’s the last day of April y’all, and by putting in a little elbow grease to end the month I’m still remaining on pace to make my crazy blog goal! Yay. With the world being in a relative state of turmoil, one must take victories where one can get them.

So aside from my extensive book review, the reasons for which I will get into later in this post, I have written an unfolding series of stories about my (our) response to Covid-19. Hey, maybe this kind of stuff will be important for the historical archives someday, when someone in 2050 is unable to imagine what this time and the time before it was like. “Wait, you mean people used to have to get in these things called cars to go to work? Weird.” Well I don’t know if we’ll go quite that far, but…

So I keep alluding to her, but I want to talk in this post more about what it’s been like being around my wonderful wife for the vast majority of these now forty-one (41!) days. I’ll tell you, if you want to discover whether you are compatible with and can enjoy the presence of someone, take away nearly all choice to do anything else but be with them and find out. Actually though, we’ve been having a great time. We sit on the couch and do things that make us laugh a lot, which at least to me is a key part of my survival. We also have read a couple of books together, because there suddenly is nothing else but time.

One of these was Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman. You may have seen the documentary series on Netflix, but she is a previously Hasidic (don’t know if I spelled that correctly) Jewish woman who felt the need to depart that community after some tough experiences while married to her arranged husband in New York. I am told that the book departs quite significantly from the series, especially as it concerns what happened after they married.

The other of our reads, I said I would not admit allowed because it sounds silly. It’s Playboy Pilots, by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland. It’s their third in a “series of stand-alones,” and we had read the first of these, Hate Notes. It’s a typical, fairly cheesy, love story with a lot of sex, but it also explores the challenges of forming a new relationship when someone has things in his or her past of which he or she is less proud. Oh and it has a lot of travel, which I can only dream about these days. I ultimately did like the book.

The main thing my wife has helped me with though, using her incredible coaching skills and a willingness to talk deep into the night, is that battle I’ve been fighting for the last 17 years: trying to figure out WHAT DO I WANT TO DO. Every go I have with the different career and life coaches hits basically this same snag, and so I knew that it was time for me to figure out that thing lurking in my brain and wishing to escape. And what have I often said to myself but not really acknowledged? I want to find a career that allows me to center myself around reading. So, the emergence of the book review! I will, over the next few months, be using this space to practice different types of review and styles of writing until I truly find my voice, then I hope to make my way into some freelance outlets. I am excited to finally embark on this journey, and perhaps it will even have a satisfactory ending for me. So if, like me, you are struggling to find your way in this confusing world, just stop and listen to yourself to hear what you’re already saying. Therein might lie the answer.

Job Days No. 3

Well, it amazes me to look up and realize that I’m already about a quarter of the way through year three at Durham’s LC Industries, my current place of employment. I guess I’ve made it something of a habit, mostly for my own records, to take an annual look at how things are going, and whether I’m making any progress towards where I would like to be. The last two evaluations have been at about this time of year as well, so I figured why not go for it?

First, I ask myself if my morning routine has altered any. It’s amusing to ponder how small changes here and there slowly turn into something quite different from what was, isn’t it?

  • 4:15: Alarm rings, I spend another three minutes checking email on the phone and coming up with every other conceivable thing to view to keep myself wrapped in those warm covers.
  • 4:20: I grudgingly roll out of bed, find clothes, and totter into the warm shower stream. Usually, too-loud singing commences and mingles with the sound of falling water that is largely undetectable to my unaided ears.
  • 4:35: Dressed and with socks on, I plug the phone into my table speakers and rock out to either Pandora, or increasingly, our local stations on TuneIn Radio. I like Pandora, but they tend to play the same stuff too often sometimes.
  • 4:45: After banging dishes around, I make a bowl of cereal, sometimes getting the kernels and droplets of milk onto the tabletop as well. Hey, I wasn’t built to function this early in the morning!
  • 4:57: I scramble around in the fridge to see if there are any sandwich products available, either Bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly, (crunchy, gotta be crunchy!). If the former, I have to make a concerted effort to remember not to leave the opened jar of mayonnaise on the counter. Man, I’ve lost at least 12 nearly full jars that way. (Refer to earlier bit regarding morning person status).
  • 5:08: Brush teeth while dancing to a tune in the living room, attempt not to actually sing while so doing as choking on toothpaste would probably not be a good idea.
  • 5:15: Out the door, on way to bus stop. I’ve gotten considerably better at crossing the street now as I know there will almost always be a point when it is totally quiet.
  • 5-35: Step aboard, while engaging random passengers in groggy conversation. I guess more and more people have come to know me with time.
  • 6: Catch second bus, fire off texts and more email with the Braille display as we whizz down the highway, and try to mentally prepare myself for the day.
  • 6:30: Arrive in break room, where I read till the bell rings, calling me to my station around 7 AM.

I guess the biggest difference is that I now make lunch nearly every day. I’m not sure if that helps or hinders me though, as once 12 PM rolls around and that stuff is being digested, I usually have to overcome some pretty powerful waves of sleepiness.

Now onto what I do in there. I still work in Light Sticks, packing ten to a box and vaulting them onto a conveyor belt as I had last year. Master Locks has pretty much reopened now, but I assume I will not return to that department and will just remain where I am for however long I stay at this organization. I’ve sped my production up about four times as compared to where I was, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be as dexterous as the true fliers back there. I guess that’s ok, as long as I no longer have people having to swarm around me nearly all day in order to ensure that my bin doesn’t get too far behind the others. It took me a while to understand the innerconnectedness of that whole area and just what was expected from me, but I think I’ve made pretty good strides nonetheless.

And so the final question: what am I doing to prepare for some other career opportunity. Well, still kind of trying to figure that out actually. I continue to learn and grow as President of the Norrie Disease Association, and especially in attempting to plan for our Third International Conference coming this August. (It’s harder than it looks! So many different things to juggle.) I have had a few at least semi-accomplishments though: successfully contacting two potential speakers/panel participants, getting initial info on a tour of the Perkins School for the Blind, and working with other board members to sort out registration challenges. It’s fun, dynamic, and definitely something that I think could help me down the road. Maybe I’ll work for a nonprofit in some capacity, who knows. I’m chewing on that…

So overall, I think things are going as good as could be hoped for. I’m used to just going in here and doing what I have to do, five days a week, and continuing to work on myself in other ways wherever possible. Still trying to fully sit back and enjoy the ride! Always appreciative of those who support me in doing this in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

CHANGE PART II: On a new connection

Remember in my first official entry of 2015 how I alluded to big changes happening both in my professional and personal life? And I didn’t really go into detail about the personal variants? Well, the big news is: I now have a girlfriend.

Out of respect for her privacy, I’m only revealing some minimum facts about her, because I believe that everyone has a right to her privacy. But, I thought it would be fun to share the story of how we came to be, as it’s cool and makes me happy.

The neat thing is, we both run in the same circle of friends but hadn’t really talked to each other before. We were to meet at the Christmas party that took place this past December, however she was unable to attend due to catching a common cold.

“Ah!” I thought to myself. “Oh well, this is where good ol’ Facebook will help me.”

I decided to pop out a message to her a couple days after the party, and we then began some basic chatter. She checked on me when I arrived in Louisiana for my vacation, and I then sent her another message once I got back home.

What really got us going was when I opted to ask if I could call her on January 9th. Our first conversation was at 11:30 PM on that cold Friday night, and because it was already fairly late we kept it to just under 30 minutes. After that though, we had a series of hour-and-a-half long conversations during which I worried about sailing far beyond my meager allowance of 450 cellular minutes. (I called to change/upgrade that plan, and ended up cutting my bill in half while getting unlimited talk and text with the same amount of data with the Verizon Loyalty plan. Why hadn’t y’all told me about this plan long ago!)

Anyway, we discovered that we had many things in common. Chief among these is our enjoyment of music, and particularly 90’s R&B. In one conversation, she clicked on different songs in her little collection and we reminisced on the things we were doing and experiencing when that song was popular.

Other commonalities are that she is quite intelligent, somewhat quiet, and very open to listening and helping others. Not necessarily saying that I am the latter, but well I’d like to think I am?

My favorite thing though is that she gets, often responding in kind to, my weird sense of humor and weirdness in general, probably due in part to her enjoyment of working with children. I think that one must be able to understand this if one has any hope of tolerating me. It makes our conversations a lot of fun.

We kept talking and talking until our first in-person meeting on Valentine’s Day. Ah, that day which is already preloaded with all sorts of hallmark expectations. But we enjoyed it, picking up some food from a Chick Fil-A drive-through and crashing on the couch. We first watched the game between the University of North Carolina and Pittsburgh, which UNC lost handily. The only really important thing we don’t share in common, and something on which I am still working ha ha, is our allegiance with regards to the UNC-Duke rivalry. She pulls for the Devils! Ah.

We also watched an X-Men movie that I think had come out in 2012, as she enjoys that sort of stuff. I think that meeting was all both of us had hoped it would be.

Then this past weekend, she slogged up here through the insistence snice and we just hung out again in my little spot. This is when I finally managed to get over my shyness enough to ask about what was going on between us. I am happy, and I feel that this has a lot of potential. Certainly I can already sense myself feeling more connected to things in a way that I hadn’t realized I was lacking. All people wish to be part of something bigger than themselves, right? I know I have plenty of work to do on myself to really be the kind of person I would like to be for her, but I am committed to doing my best to get there. We shall see.

So yeah, the great promise of 2015 still unfolds in new, unanticipated ways. Hopefully things will continue to head on the up and up as this crazy Winter blast finally begins to get out of here! I hope that whatever is happening with your year has been all you’ve hoped for and more as well.

Cha-cha-changes

Welcome to the first official post of 2015! Yeah I know, some of the Louisiana entries were made during 2015, but they were referring to an event that happened way back in ancient times of the year previous. So, here ya go.

Man, has this year gotten off to a rockin’ start! It is setting up to challenge me in ways I’ve never really been challenged, but that will help me get closer to where I want to be pretty quickly. These changes are happening on both a professional and personal level.

First, excitedly, I have been named President of the Norrie Disease Association. This was necessitated by our previous president having to step down due to some unfortunate circumstances that have made it difficult for him to continue in that role. While the reasons make me sad, I am still appreciative of having this opportunity and hope I can make the most of it. I got a strong vote of confidence from my fellow board members, though I honestly am not entirely certain why. Me? One who is sometimes too shy to make a simple phone call? Who definitely has a ways to go before he is as assertive as he would like to be? But, I hope I have made and am making progress in this area, and it will help to have such knowledgeable people to assist me as I do so. We’ll see if this August’s conference goes off fairly well.

RELATED: Five Years of the NDA

Second, this city and the Triangle Transit system have decided to pull a bit of a switcheroo on me. They’ve altered some of the routes that I take, especially that which I use to get home from work. I hadn’t known this initially, I suppose because I wasn’t smart enough to check the service changes page they posted shortly after the year began. This meant I got stuck at Durham Station downtown for 30 minutes, in the cold wind! I have since been trying to learn how to get from my old bus to the new one, and a cool thing is that BlindSquare GPS, an app on my iPhone, can actually tell me where the buses are within the station. Well it probably has some set database that doesn’t change often, as some of the numbers are transposed a bit. For example, the 700 now stops where the 400 used to, so it still calls that the 400. But as long as I know this, I can easily still use it to track my location. Hopefully I will know it by rote soon enough.

The final change I will talk about at this point is in my reading habits. Check out my 2014 Booklist, which you should find in the “Pages” section of this site. There, I note that I consumed 34 titles last year, a record for me. Many of these titles were by so-called “indie” authors, as I’ve befriended them on Twitter and wanted then to check out their works. As local writer Monica Byrne noted in an article that discussed her book, 2014 was actually the year of the indie author in many respects. One of its best reads, The Martian, had been put out by an unknown guy named Andy Weir. The thing I most liked about this book is that, while he clearly knows his stuff regarding what the planet is like, how one might experience a mission there, etc.; he does a good job of making things understandable to those of us who maybe don’t have such advanced knowledge.

I also took in more nonfiction than I ever have before. I’m thus starting off this year in the same way, currently reading a very popular title called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks about a black woman who’s cancer cells were scooped in the 50s, implanted in a dish, and have gone on to aid in lots of research, medications, and the like. It’s an interesting read.

I have it as a goal this year to reach fifty (5-0!) books. That’s a lot for me, as I normally don’t have a whole lot of time to sit and read. I’m doing them two at a time though, and already about a third of the way through both books three and four.

I have them all in my iPhone these days, using the Audible, BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) mobile, iBooks, and Kindle Apps. All of these apps have their pros and cons, but as far as functionality goes I think Audible tops the list. In Kindle, if I happen to get a notification it shoots me to the top of the page I was currently reading. In iBooks, I am slowed by having to wait for the page-changing announcement to disappear, though I suppose I do like this announcement since I can keep track of my progress. And in BARD, the audio books work fine, but I wish the Braille books would be automatically marked when you stop. If I forget to set a mark before closing the app, it’ll jump back to the beginning of the book and I must then find my place again. Depending on how far I’ve read in, this can take a while!

Anyway, that’s a quick scan of 2015 as it has unfolded thus far. It looks to be an entertaining year, full of unexpected occurrences. I just hope most of those are favorable for me and for us all. More soon.

Another Durham Night

A month or so ago, I got a notice via email that NPR’s Ask Me Another, a puzzle/comedy show, would visit the Carolina Theater here in Durham. I decided I would go, opting for mid-priced, and thus first of two balcony level seats. It took place yesterday, and was quite enjoyable.

First though, I had to visit a more recent but instantly respected local institution, Cocoa Cinnamon. I’d read an article way back when I arrived in the Bull City last February about how this place was started, I think by some Russian folks? I can’t exactly remember the story, but was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit it suggested. It kind of made sense to go on this day, since the little cozy coffee shop was located only a few streets from the theater.

I got there at 4:15. The crowd kept ebbing and flowing around me as I leaned back in a comfortable, homely chair. The only issue I had was that there was little table space inside, meaning I had to hold the giant, two-hands-requiring mug aloft. This meant I couldn’t immediately use my iPhone, which ok ok was probably a good thing, as it forced me to enjoy the environment while I sucked down the vanilla latte..

And speaking of that, yeah the price was a bit up, but I suppose you’ll have that at a non-chain establishment. However, as I said I looked forward to actually supporting locals with good business sense.

And the baristas were nice as well. I remained there till around 6:30, and thus a different woman helped me with the cookie recommendation, a giant coffee-flavored confection, than I’d encountered when I entered. She was also kind enough to walk me outside and help get me into my Uber ride for the short trip over to the auditorium.

Last chance for a $30 trip! Use my Uber code to sign up: johnm1014).

The show started at 7, with the house opening at 6:30. I had to wait a couple of minutes to go inside, but was able to do so in the lobby that smelled of popcorn. My kind volunteer usher told me that the building has two entertainment auditoriums and a cinema where, well different, movies are shown. I think they like to air old stuff as well as pre-screening newer ones. I’ve also learned that that theater has been around for 86 years.

Even so, I was glad to see that this theater had an elevator. I could have of course walked up the stairs, but hopefully the lift would make it more wheelchair accessible. I’m not sure about the small steps that lead up to one’s seat though, but I guess they probably have an area where chairs can park before actually getting to said stairs.

I was told that the auditorium where Ask Me Another was staged holds approximately 800 people. Into my seat, I settled in and immediately sent my cane sailing away somehow. The woman to my right couldn’t initially see it, which caused me to panic. But luckily, it had just fallen to my left. I also enjoyed a short conversation with the guy on y other side, who said he was a great fan of the show but hadn’t known what Ophira Eisenberg, the show’s host, looked like; since he’d only listened to the podcast.

Things actually got started about 12 minutes late, I suppose not too surprisingly. Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon did the courtesy announcement “please turn off your smartphones,” then Ms. Eisenberg came onto the stage. She buttered us up, “Durham, are you ready to party!”, and told stories of predictable Southern hospitality as she walked through the grocery and on the street.

“Um, I wasn’t really sure how to react to that”, she thought in response to some such acknowledgement.

The house musician, Jonathan Coulton, worked the audience into a fervor with a silly song in which he instructed us to sing roughly in a way that represented whichever characters the song was referencing. Sadly, I couldn’t exactly hear what they were saying. That’s probably not much of a surprise, though. They definitely had fun with it, and the energy of the crowd made me smile.

Then, the official recording began. What we hear on the radio only lasts an hour, but it actually takes about two to complete. It begins with two contestants answering a series of crazy category questions. The first was “Are you ready to rumble!” in which all of the correct responses would end in MBLE. The competitors got into it, mumbling “are you ready to mumble?” sounding meak and quiet when saying “are you ready to humble?”, and the like.

The next category was sports teams. They would give some silly clue, and the contestant had to determine which college team was being spoken of. Everyone was kind of quiet as she mentioned this, till someone did the example, saying something that referred to the Blue Devils. More people boo’d than cheered, which amused me since we were definitely in Duke territory. I guess in the Carolina Theater, it was a partisan Tar Heels crowd. Well, of course.

“Wow, a lot of emotion there!” she laughed in response to the crowd’s reaction. “Everybody’s like blah blah when the category is mentioned, but when I ask you who’s side you’re on?…”

After another category of some kind, she interviewed a musician who now lives in the area, but is originally from California, I think. He’d lived in Iowa before arriving in Durham, and commented on the hilarity of being able to walk onto his driveway in barefeet on Christmas here. I’m not sure if I would do that, but well… They then asked him to identify a series of songs that had been altered lyrically in some way. More contestants then did this as well, identifying songs associated with states but who’s state names had been changed to more exotic locales “to bring about world peace,” according to the show’s proctor.

Intermission happened at roughly 8:30, and I got my exercise getting up and sitting down as people moved about along the extremely narrow steps. My knees were so close to the heads below me that I had to make a conscious effort to avoid knocking them against those heads repeatedly. It was fine, though.

The final round was on hills, in honor of Chapel Hill. They nearly ran out of questions to ask the two finalists, and so came down to a tie-break that gave the win to the first to buzz in and answer correctly.

So those are a few of the highlights I can recall. Overall, I really had fun and found it to be a fascinating experience. As someone else pointed out, it was interesting to hear Eisenberg go back at the end and re-speak short portions that the producers, through an earpiece I think, told her to smooth out. This particular episode will actually air on January 22nd, and I will probably listen to it to see how it juxtaposes with what I heard while live in the place.

Now, still looking forward to the live Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me taping I’m due to attend in Chicago. I guess that’ll happen sometime next year though. I want to do more other stuff like that as well.

But that’s a thing I really love about Durham: it’s small, but has good transit and enough umph to attract some pretty cool acts. We’ll see what else I can find indoors, to keep my mind off of the falling temperatures.

Five Years of the NDA

The organization to which I am referring, the Norrie Disease Association, has actually existed for more than 5 years. If my facts are correct, it was founded in 2006 by individuals with Norrie or those who are close to such individuals, (e.g) family members, certain medical professionals. The main purpose of the NDA is to offer support to all involved, advance ability to do and knowledge into research on Norrie-related issues, and to enhance outreach within the larger medical and social context.

I became aware of this organization in 2009, when they advertised to a group of us who had completed a survey about Norrie symptoms on their upcoming conference in Boston. I decided pretty quickly that I would in fact attend that conference, with little understanding of how my life would change as a result.

On November 13 of that same year, 2009, I sat outside of my apartment clutching a nearly dead cell phone to my ear and shivering as I tried to maintain reception. I was attending my first ever teleconferemce as a board member of the NDA, and man was I ever shy. I probably didn’t say much beyond “Hello” when I called in, and “bye” on disconnecting after two hours of chatter. To be honest, I wondered why I’d opted to volunteer in this way at all, and especially as I was in the thick of a crazy first semester at grad school.

Time passed, and with few exceptions I attended each monthly meeting. Slowly, a rapport built between me and the rest of the group, which also consisted of two other Norrie men, two parents of persons with Norrie, and a sibling of that same type. The thing that most brought me out of my shell was the feeling that others took my responses seriously, even if at first they may have been hard to hear, since I would mumble with little confidence.

The person who did the most to ensure that I found a bit of my niche as NDA boardmember was the late, great Mike Kosior. My understanding is that this group was initially his idea, and at that time he held the title of Vice President. He encouraged us all actually, making each person feel like he or she had something valuable to contribute. We hadn’t discovered until he died, but Kosior took the time to email us one by one, asking how things were going, wondering how he might help to make things better, and giving us all silly knicknames. I was “Chief”. Interesting.

I got to participate in planning for the 2012 conference, a month prior to which Mr. Kosior sadly passed on. It was tough to carry on anyway, but we all felt that he would have wanted us to do so more than anything.

I’d chosen to head the meeting of Norrie men at the conference to discuss challenges and such that we face among ourselves, and I admit and have been told in critiques that I didn’t do the best job in the world at moderating said discussion. I think that shortcoming was again reflective of my general shyness, a characteristic I hope I’ve managed to tamp down a bit simply by continuing to watch how other board members conduct themselves.

I imagine I may get a good chance to find out at our next conference, which is tentatively set to take place in August of next year. I have been vice president since August of last year, and admittedly I’m still not entirely sure what I should do with the role. I do know that I have big shoes to fill, and should begin making more of an effort to do so, perhaps just by taking inspiration from what I got to see of Kosior’s actions.

In any event, I look forward to serving for as long as it is deemed acceptable and of use by and among others. I agree with the president though that we need at some point to get some new blood, so that we keep things, people, and ideas fresh. So to the rest of you in our little Norrie community, keep your ears open for when slots do open up. We will need individuals who represent a number of different backgrounds. Till then though, here’s to another five years!