Monday, March 31, 2008


Brave enough to be crazy
Strong enough to be weak
I see all these heroes with feet of clay
Whose mighty ships have sprung a leak
And I want you to tell me darlin'
Just what do you believe in now?

--don henley
heroes still exist.

i knew this all along, but the knowledge was buried beneath years of disappointment and disillusion.

when i was a kid, athletes were my idols. pete rose, for example. man, i wanted to be like him. to play the game like he did, all hard-nosed and relentless and steely-eyed. then pete gambled on the game, lied about it, and exhibited years of unheroic denial and cowardice.

all the good stuff was washed away by the bad.

there were others, as there are with any kid, but eventually all of them proved to be less than heroic. and i'll never forget how empty it felt to stop believing.

maybe that's the price of growing up. you can't be a rational adult and insist people live up to your impossible ideals and idolization. still, it left a void where once there was...what? inspiration? a jarring disconnect between, "i want to be like that" and "i don't want to have anything to do with that."

this week i discovered i can have it both ways.

for four days at a conference for emergency medical service (ems) professionals, i got to see, up close, who these people are and what they do. i got to see their idiosyncracies and reconcile them with the heroic work they do every day.

like prying small, broken bodies out of a wrecked minivan. or looking into the mess that was a face before someone put a bullet into it. or charging into a skyscraper that's about to collapse. we take it for granted, don't we, that "someone's got to do it"?

these are the people who actually do.

as heroes go, some of them aren't my cup of tea. some of them are a little surly. some of them can get a little loud and obnoxious at the pub. some of them look down their nose at "civilians."

that's all fine; while i wouldn't necessarily want to hang out with those particular guys, i'd love to buy them a round of beers. any time, anywhere.

because they're heroes.

then there's the other side of the coin. the majority of ems folks are just the nicest, most intelligent, most endearing people you'll ever meet. they're the kind who would do anything for you, thank you for the opportunity, then try to pick up the tab at dinner.

but you can't let them. because they're heroes. (plus, as noted elsewhere, they don't get paid near enough to be buying dinner.)

every year at this conference there's a skills competition between teams from around the world. it's promoted as "an extraordinary display of techniques, technology, and teamwork by some of the best EMS professionals. Each year’s winner demonstrates unsurpassed assessment skills, clinical knowledge and the ability to work under pressure."

i can confirm that. all of it. five teams competed in the finals, responding to a simulated mass casualty incident the way they might to the real thing. the teams came from iowa and nevada and west virginia and north carolina and new york. and you could see the exercise was serious as a heart attack to all of them.

in the event of an actual emergency, these are the people you want showing up and taking care of you.

the winner was announced the next morning--the team from fdny. these guys are new york to the core; burly, in your face, no fear. and yet when they were presented with their medals (along with a state-of-the-art video laryngoscope), they were like kids who just won their first little league trophy. they didn't know whether to laugh or cry or go to disneyland.

i got to meet them afterward...they spent half an hour in our booth. all i'll say is, that half hour went by way too fast, and i wanted to hug every one of them (but i didn't).

before it was over, though, i realized i can still have my heroes. i can have them without the unreasonable expectations, without the baggage i used to hang on them. i can have them without being disappointed that they're not perfect.

after years of being without them, i've got my heroes back again.

it feels great.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


today i spent four hours in a cadaver lab for ems professionals.

tonight i'm drunk.

these things are not unrelated.

i was pretty composed throughout the event. in a room full of ems veterans and emergency physicians and shock-trauma paramedics, there wasn't much choice. i watched and participated and acted like it was just another day at the office.

there were seven dead people in the room. they were all elderly, and had donated their bodies to medical research. today, that meant educating first-responders on emergency airway control. getting an endotracheal tube through the vocal chords and into the airway.

there are a lot of ways to achieve this end. my company makes one such way, and it's a pretty elegant solution to a difficult problem. other methods are less elegant, and more traumatic for the patient.

but most patients, given a choice, would say, "get that tube in there, and we'll discuss the details at a more opportune time. thanks."

today's patients, needless to say, were past such consideration. their vital signs were as stable as they'll ever be.

at the end of the day we cleaned off our equipment with some serious disinfectant, packed everything into heavy plastic bags, and walked out into a beautiful day in downtown baltimore.

we walked back to a hotel near a convention center where our company, among many others, is exhibiting the latest life-saving devices and products.

the people who do this kind of thing for a living are energized and enthusiastic to be here, learning new things that will help them help us, when we need them most. they wear patches and insignia that say "broward county ems" and "new orleans critical care rescue team" and "fdny."

i stare as they go by, utterly failing to grasp how they do what they do--amazing things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. these people should be showered with money and eternal gratitude.

instead, most of the time, they toil in obscurity, at barely sustainable wages.

i was happy as hell today to contribute, insignificantly, to their efforts.

and tonight i quietly tried to wash the taste of death out of my mouth.

i can't say that it worked out very well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

signed, sealed, delivered

yesterday i ordered two large "obama '08" yard signs.

i was gonna wait 'til the man secured the nomination, but the numbers are in, and they're indisputable. the democratic nominee is barack obama (hillary will just have to come to terms with this fact...hopefully sooner, rather than later).

so i ordered my signs.

and while that's good, it's not the best part.

the best part is that our next door neighbor, one gladys kravitz*, is a rabid republican.

in '04 we were obliged to endure her bush-cheney sign (not to mention the ongoing nausea-mare of bush and cheney themselves).

in '06 we were treated to local gop propaganda, notably a big "mike mcgavick for u.s. senate" sign. thankfully, that didn't work out so well, for gladys or mcgavick, who lost in a landslide.

all the while, we kept our peace. we displayed no counter-propaganda. we put no stickers on our bumpers. we especially did not shout at her windows through a bullhorn.

those days are over. well, except for the bullhorn-shouting part. though we reserve the right to bust that out later.

the signs are on the way.

but wait. it gets better still. turns out gladys's live-at-home son, we'll call him rimbaud, is in the obama camp. we know this because the boy attended the washington state caucuses, kinda sly-like, without mom noticing. and, he was one of the many gathered in the teachers' lounge who did not vote for clinton.

isn't it rich?

we assume at some point we'll see a "mccain" sign up next door (though it turns out many hard-right wingers don't find mccain sufficiently insane---go figure). in addition to some strategic vandalism on that front, we contemplate with great joy the deployment of the obama yard signs.

the gloves are off, gladys.

no prisoners.

* no, not really.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

the fairness doctrine

newsflash: life isn't fair.

if it were, a young woman, full of promise, wouldn't have been shot dead last week in chapel hill, nc.

if it were, another young woman, in new york, wouldn't be getting rich from her bad choices and her notoriety.

if it were, eliot spitzer...well, come to think of it, eliot got what was coming to him. he deserves to be an ex-governor, shamed out of office and currently very uncomfortable in his own home. if it is, in fact, still his home, and his wife hasn't run him off as well.

life wasn't fair to mrs. spitzer, either.

eve carson was student body president at the university of north carolina. she was popular with peers, respected by faculty, and pretty in an effortless, 22-year old kind of way. by all accounts, she made the right choices to get where she was. but because life isn't fair, she was killed early one morning, for a handful of credit cards and her car.

now her friends and family are left to do whatever people do to keep breathing in such circumstances. at the moment, i can't imagine what that might be.

ashley alexandra dupré is the high-priced call girl who helped spitzer crash and burn so spectacularly. her life hasn't been idyllic. she was abused in her youth, dropped out of high school, left home, used drugs and spent time on the streets.

somehow she found her way into a high-paying prostitution gig, used the money to record some music, and eventually stumbled across the former governor of new york.

life wasn't fair to ashley. it's doubtful that her childhood dream was to be a hooker. but suddenly, despite a plethora of bad choices in her 22 years, all her dreams are coming true. she's making a bundle of money on her songs, and being offered seven-figure paydays to exploit her new celebrity.

since i have a daughter, i empathize with the parents of both these girls. one child, gone forever, the other a prostitute at the center of a national scandal. it's bizarre. surreal. a turn of the wheel that grinds people under.

things happen for a reason, some say, but i don't believe it. there's no rhyme or reason to these stories...or any others, near as i can tell. life is many things, but rational ain't one of them.

and it surely isn't fair.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

souls foreclosed

we like to think we live in a nice, friendly neighborhood.

we like to think we can count on each other for some important things, like keeping an eye on the kids, or jump-starting a car on a cold morning, or watching over the house if we're away.

we like to think we live amongst people who don't swoop in like vultures to buy the neighbors' house in a foreclosure frenzy.

but according to an e-mail i received recently, people are scoring GREAT DEALS on houses in OUR NEIGHBORHOOD due to the wave of foreclosures nationwide.

apparently it's an INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY to invest in real estate that may not come along again IN OUR LIFETIME.

isn't that great?

an infomercial on one of the local tv stations echoed the e-mail, only louder, and with testimonials.

"we swooped in and bought our neighbors' house, and we feel great about it," said one effervescent couple.

"this was a great opportunity for us to kick our neighbors to the curb," gushed another.

i'm exaggerating only slightly. in fact, the less discerning in the audience would notice the hyperbole not at all.

what have we come to that some of us will greet our neighbors cordially on the weekend, and emotionally eviscerate them on monday? that some so-called friends will talk the neighbor talk, but walk the republican walk?

we've come to no damn good, that's what.

they say a fish rots from the head down, and in some cases that's true.

but that's no excuse for people who, by appearance, are just like us, but when times get tough...have no heart at all.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

a world away

occasionally i see myself on a skiff, looking for marlins, in the florida keys.

in this little fantasy, it's just me, old and alone, on the last few miles of a long journey.

i don't know why the keys, except maybe that the water there is warm and iridescent blue, and that after the global-warming hurricane years, what's left of the land there is barren. and cheap.

as i'm old, with no one to worry about except myself, i don't worry about the next storm so much as the next meal. the next fish into the boat.

but, importantly for my old bones, the air is warm, and humid, and keeps the aches from being too bad.

i've kicked my caffeine habit, and i've given up the wine and beer. none of it is readily available, and i have no way to keep anything hot. or cold. just room temperature, which is a pretty consistent 82.

i don't know where the children are. and they have no way to reach me. they were both pretty well set up after their mother passed, and i didn't feel like i had a lot of value to add to their lives. the boy never really liked me, see, and the girl...well, she was always so self-posessed and happy. what use did she have for a tired, disheartened old man?

there's no internet, no news, no outrage to channel.

i don't miss it.

i rise with the sun, sleep at sunset. i breathe, and, on really good days, manage to stay out of my own head and out of my own way for hours at a time. it's very refreshing.

and quiet. even the storms, noisy as they are, don't disturb the soundless days and nights.

i fish. and swim. and walk. i watch the sky, and meditate on the finite and the infinite.

nothing gets resolved, but then again, no one ever said life was easy.

it's just an occasional fantasy. it doesn't come around often. i have no idea what it means.

and it's not so bad. it just is.