The Fall

It’s 5:36 on the morning of January 31, 2018. I had set an early alarm and am walking out the front door of our house looking at the sky. The security footage shows me linger on the sidewalk in front of the house for several minutes before turning south to climb the hill to the end of our street for a better view of the cloudy sky.

10 minutes later the camera shows my return – carefully walking across the front yard holding my left forearm stiffly in front of me with my right hand. At the front door I try the doorbell three times before finding a way to open the door with my feet.

The inside camera doesn’t catch my entry through the front door but it is activated when I walk through the kitchen and come to rest at the dining room table, forearm on the table. A few minutes later Tina appears and I shuffle out the front door for our trip to the emergency room.

As I watched it for the first time, I was surprised at how little of the pain was visible in those silent images. There is just one moment as I wait for Tina to respond to the doorbell that I throw my head back wailing but the moment passes quickly.

It was a futile quest. Typical Oregon clouds blocked any view of the rare super blue moon eclipse. Even before setting the alarm I knew this was likely but I thought it was worth a try and it was only one hour earlier than I had been waking recently.

As I hiked up the hill I remembered the numerous times this climb had been difficult and now it was easy. When I got to the top, I walked to the next street over and scanned the sky. Nothing. “Where should I be looking?” I wondered as I turned around and began walking back. I pulled up the web browser on my phone as I formulated the Google search phrase in my mind. Before I could type it, I stepped off the sidewalk and into a world of pain.

It was the curb strip and it was landscaped with lava rocks. I was laying face down and my left arm hurt a lot. I lay there moaning and swearing for a bit before attempting to get up. However, when I pushed up with my left arm, I felt no resistance from the ground. Confused, I looked up at my forearm and was surprised to see it was laying at a different angle than it “felt.” Instead of facing the ground, ready to push off, it was laying at a 45° angle the other way and on the other side, a position that is normally not possible because the shoulder won’t rotate far enough. I knew then it was bad.

More swearing and lots of self-recrimination (“Stupid, stupid, stupid!”). My phone was within reach so I called Tina who was still sleeping at home. It was 5:39 when I made the first call and 5:40 when I gave up after the third. I briefly considered a FaceTime call but abandoned that idea when my phone told me I had disabled it for cell data.

I needed to stand and I needed to walk the four blocks back to the house. I needed to keep my arm from flopping while I walked. Once I got to the house, I knew Tina could take over and make the remaining decisions such as whether we should go to urgent care or the emergency room.

I gathered my wits, grasped my left wrist with my right hand and lifted my left arm off the ground. I lurched to my knees, carefully centered my gravity and then stood. “Yes. Good. Ok. Ok.” I muttered as I turned towards home, eyes fixed on the ground immediately in front of me for fear of another misstep.

I had only taken a couple of steps before realizing that my sweat pants had slid down and would be a problem for walking. Except neither hand was free to pull them up. A nearby hedge was just the right height to temporarily rest my bad arm and pull up my pants with the good one.

Half a block later the problem arose again and I looked for a new arm rest. The problem with pulling up pants one-handed is that it is very difficult to pull up the side opposite your hand properly. I managed to get the waistband completely over my left buttock this time and was soon back to walking slowly and muttering encouragement to myself. “Just a little further. Almost there. We got this.” (Yes, I refer to myself as “we” for conversations in my head.)

Halfway home and I realized I was not wearing my glasses. I did not consider turning back to retrieve them. The thought was preposterous.

When got home I knew that I had to be especially careful crossing the yard. If I fell again, it could be disastrous. I walked very slowly and very carefully across the grass, feeling each step fully before shifting my weight forward. I tried the doorbell but Tina was fast asleep so I opened the door with my foot and walked inside yelling Tina’s name.

I went to the bedroom and she still lay in bed undisturbed. I sat on the edge of the bed by her feet, reached over and shook her. I waited for her to rouse and remove her earplugs before saying, “I fell and may have broken my arm. You have to take me to the hospital.” It took her a few seconds to realize what was happening but then she got out of bed and started dressing.

I wandered out to the dining room where I sat at the nearest chair, rested my injured arm on the table and began sobbing uncontrollably. I knew that I had done what was necessary to get help and now I could trust others to take care of me. The entirety of my situation came crashing down and I collapsed underneath the weight. My whole body shook and all my recent failures flooded my consciousness.

I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my breath, a technique used in mindful meditation. Time crawled. Soon I began wailing “What is taking so long?” over and over. The pain was immense and I knew it was not ending any time soon. Aside from the pain, the visceral feeling of danger felt like an existential threat. I was completely in fight-flight-freeze mode and all rationality had been suspended.

Tina came out and began reassuring me. She helped me out the door and into the car. She drove to the scene of the accident to retrieve my glasses and then on to the emergency room. The fifteen minute drive to the hospital seemed to take an eternity but I was calmer by this time and tried intermittently to focus on my breath again. It seemed to work but when I opened my eyes, we were hardly any closer than when I closed them. The swearing and self-deprecation continued throughout. I also came to realize that eventually I might be faced with even more pain while my arm was being put back into place.

Tina parked near the emergency room entrance in a handicap spot and put her placard (which she keeps in her purse) on the dashboard. The waiting room was relatively empty when we arrived and I was admitted immediately. After standing in the admission office for a few minutes (I was afraid you sit because I didn’t know how hard or painful rising from the chair would be), we were walked to a room with a bed on which I sat to be evaluated.

It was quickly determined that x-rays would be needed. I was offered a wheelchair but I declined, still fearing the painful consequences of standing from a low seated position. We walked to the radiology room just outside of the ER where they thankfully had a downward facing projector which allowed me to rest my arm on the detector pad.

My actual x-ray

The x-rays showed that I had suffered a “simple dislocation” of the elbow which essentially means that there were no fractures. Obviously, that was good news but I knew that the possibility of more and greater pain lay ahead during the reduction maneuver that is used to restore the elbow to normal alignment. When the doctor told me that I would be “under” for the procedure, I immediately told him that I loved him. I was only half-joking.

When I awoke from the anesthesia (propofol), my arm was in a splint and a sling. When we checked out a short time later, the pain was considerably less and the events of the morning already felt like a fading memory.

It is now two weeks later during which time I have worn two splints and a brace but now my arm is free again. Physical therapy starts next week.


The sun bakes the brown skin on my back. I peer through a knot hole at the water below. The warmth feels good but I’m not here for the sun. I’m here for the water.

I place my palms down on the gnarled wooden surface of the dock and hoist myself to my feet. I quickly look around to assess the situation: Who can I impress? Who should I avoid? Who might I frighten with a sneak attack?

I face the shore and stand on the edge of the dock plank, balancing on the balls of my feet. Hands at my sides I take a deep breath and fling myself into the space beyond the dock.

The water is barely six feet deep so the dive must be shallow. Shallow dives don’t allow for much finesse but as I jump, I sweep my arms outward until they meet above my head just before I hit the water. I feel graceful and superheroic never considering that I may look less so.

The water is cool and murky green. My older siblings won’t swim here and some friends level charges of “runoff” and “swimmer’s ear” but I never believe them. This is my habitat.

With eyes wide open I immediately glide to the sandy bottom. I take massive strokes with my arms, inverting the motion I used in the air moments before. My hands pass in front of my face each time I reposition my arms for a new stroke. I feel all the power and grace my non-athletic body will ever manage. I know I am a better swimmer than my peers and that is a great comfort.

I swim silently, slightly above the sand, with no other thoughts in my head but suppressing my desire for air. Eventually that desire will overpower me but I know I’m one step ahead of my future self. When at last I can take no more, I will begin the ascent to the surface, forced to continue swimming by virtue of my position at the bottom. This, I know, will give me an advantage in future underwater swimming contests, should they ever arise.

But none of that is necessary for this dive because the shore arrives before my air supply dwindles. I take one final stroke and glide into the shallow water where it is no longer possible to hide my awkward body from the world. When I can go no further, I raise my head above the surface, taking care not to stir the water unnecessarily or to make any gasping noises with my first breath.

I linger briefly in the shallow water, feeling my body float effortlessly while my belly rubs slightly against the sand. I revel in the moment. I know I belong here. I long for the rest of my life to be this effortless.

Dedicated to Mary Lou, 2016.08.21

Letter to my Uncle Lorell who is dying

September 3, 2011


Dear Lorell,

When I was a kid there were few things I liked more than going to my uncles’ farms. Being a “city slicker” (as my classmates often called me), the farm was a completely different world to me. When I visited my Uncle Merlin’s farm it was mostly about hanging out with my cousins who were close in age to me, but when I visited your farm, it was always about you and I spending time together. That is a gift that I will always treasure.

One time when I was there “helping” you, we tried to take a dent out of the local rat population. I’ll never forget when you lifted up a piece of plywood (or maybe it was corrugated tin) that was laying behind the big machine shed. The plywood was laying on a small pile of corn and when you lifted it, it revealed several rat “tunnels” and the rats inside them. I was surprised but you were not because you had a gun and started shooting the rats as they scurried away. Guns, rats, tunnels – everything about being on the farm was so cool.

You’ve always been there. You were at Grandma Christensen’s for all those Christmases with the toys in the bedrooms and the money in the envelopes. And you were at Grandma Ring’s for the oyster stew. I remember sitting in that little living room watching Vitas Gerulaitis play tennis and you laughing when I joked that his name sounded like a disease. Harold was there. And my dad. And Gene.

So many memories I have of you and so little time to tell you about them. You kept your golf cart in Grandma Ring’s garage. You drove that giant green Cadillac. You visited me at my first house in Portland. Remember? You got lost and I told you “find the first bridge you see and cross it.” I was so sad to spend what I thought would be our last birthday together three years ago but now I’m so glad that you have had three more years in this world. I’ve never had a birthday where I didn’t think of you. And I never will.

As I sit here with all these thoughts and memories swirling through my head, I’m desperately trying to figure out how to end this note to you in a meaningful way. I suppose that life mostly doesn’t come to an end in a dramatic or meaningful way so perhaps I should just end this by saying that I thank you for your many kindnesses towards me over the last (almost) 45 years and that I think you’ve been a good uncle and a fine man. I also thank you for my double cousins without whom my life would be lesser. I hope that you reach the end of your days peacefully and without regret. And I love you.


Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll

If you were a teen in the 80s like me then you probably remember the short-lived sketch comedy series, Fridays, on ABC. Although it only lasted two seasons, it left an indelible impression on my young brain.

Sadly, a DVD release of those two seasons is reportedly held up by Michael Richards. Luckily, YouTube has most of their great sketches including the ones I’ve included below the fold:
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Page 2: In Which I Explain My Life To The Class of 1985

I’ve been in Portland since 1990 after a short detour to San Diego after graduating from Wartburg. I met and married my wife, Tina, in 1992. We have two awesome boys who dictate how we spend most of our time. Both are very active in Boy Scout Troop 820 ( and both play the double bass in the school orchestra after converting from the cello.

Graham is a nerd of the first order and thinks I’m the coolest nerd on the planet. He loves to play video games on our Xbox and Wii but is enthusiastic in almost everything he does — even when I enlist his help in yard chores. Since he was a baby we have known that he is strong-willed and joyous. He’s also very intelligent and somewhat arrogant about that fact, regarding it as a fact of life that he’s smarter than everyone else. I’m trying to work that out of him.

Thomas is more reserved than Graham and less likely to risk looking uncool. A year ago I helped him buy his first electric bass. Since then he has learned to play all of his favorite sons and a few “classics” that I asked him to learn. He can also has pick up Tina or my guitar and play them much better than either of us. In many ways he’s very much like I was at that age: long hair, quiet except with friends, stubborn and often inconsiderate. He’s also very smart but not always willing to work hard for great grades.

Continue reading “Page 2: In Which I Explain My Life To The Class of 1985”

Note for Neighbor with the Black Lab

Dear neighbor:

I am surprised that your dog is still running free and pooping on my and Walt’s yard. You know Walt? He lives across from me and is 85+ years old. He also does not enjoy having to clean up your dog’s poop. I asked him because I wasn’t sure if it was just me. It’s not. NOBODY LIKES BEING POOPED ON.

I say “surprised” because my wife had already told you that we did not appreciate your dog pooping on our lawn. But still he runs free. It appears that you are either too dim or too insensitive to understand her request. Let me make it clear:

WE DO NOT LIKE BEING POOPED ON. Until this point we have not even investigated our legal and civil options. Please do not make us go that far. I have faith that there will be some recourse available to us that will make your life more difficult than it is now. Let’s just stop it here and you leash your dog. Or keep him in your fenced back yard. I don’t care as long as he is not in everybody else’s yard.

Also, I could not be happier that you want to go on walks with your dog. I encourage it. I also would encourage you to have evidence visible that you are prepared to clean up after your dog.

In conclusion, let me just say that you likely know that your behaviour has not been acceptable. If you didn’t know that, you should now. This is what society expects.

Reverse Baader-Meinhof Syndrome

Part One
Some time ago I renewed my subscription to Netflix in order to utilize their streaming video service which is offered “free” to all their subscribers. The service is nice but the selection of movies available to Watch Instantly (their term for internet streaming) is a very small subset of the movies that they have on DVD. Because I’m interested to know of any additions to this subset, I subscribe to their RSS feed for New choices to watch instantly. With that subscription I receive notification in my web browser whenever a movie is made available for Instant viewing. This morning there were approximately 20 new movies available which I quickly scrolled through, clicking open a new tab for each that interested me. One of these was Yojimbo by the legendary Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, who also directed the seminal Seven Samarai. After reading the description, I clicked the “Add to Instant Queue” button to save it for later viewing. Whenever you add a movie to your queue on Netflix they suggest 10 more related movies that they think you might like. This time, they showed me these (click to enlarge the image):

Netflix Choices

My eyes were immediately drawn to one of the movies on the bottom and in the middle, The Beider Meinhof Complex. The name was somewhat familiar so I read the description but it didn’t interest me so I closed the window.

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Letter To My One-Time Eye Doctor

Dear Dr. Nelson:

I can’t tell how happy I was to receive your postcard reminding me that I should schedule an eye appointment with your office. Two years ago I had the most delightful appointment with you and your staff. While I waited for the results, one of your employees helped me choose frames for my new eye glasses. When she showed me the frames that come with magnetically attached sunglasses, I was doubtful that I would buy such a thing. However, when she informed me that replacing the sunglasses themselves only cost $10, I was convinced.

After I received the glasses, I used the clip-on sunglasses all the time. Since I regularly rode my bike to and from work, it was very handy to keep them in my bike bag. Sure they started to get scratched from contacting everything else in my bike bag, but I knew that replacements were ONLY TEN DOLLARS. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I dropped by your office three months later and was told that replacements cost ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Flabbergasted, I protested only slightly to you. I was simply stunned and walked out of there with no replacements. A few months later I had a new job with new insurance and was able to return to my old eye doctor. In contrast to my experience with your office, this doctor always makes recommendations that save me money and maximize value from my optical insurance. He also lives up to his promises and makes sure his employees are well-informed about the products he offers.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for you and your business, which is what I have been telling all of my friends for the last two years. I’m grateful that you reminded me how poorly you treated me and provided me with an email address to tell you about it.