Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Official Height

I forgot to add that my height is now 5' 1.37". I am officially no longer growth deficient. My weight is still too low in my doctor's opinion. I understand his concern, but it's very difficult to put any weight on, expecially with track practice four days a week right now. My dad says he is going to tell my coach I can only practice three days a week. I have mixed feelings. I could use the extra time, and I could use a few extra pounds, but I don't want the coach to get mad.

Visit to Pediatric Endocrinologist

I went to see my pediatric endocrinologist today. I weighed just over two pounds when I was born and was 15 and one-half inches long. I didn't catch up to within the normal range for height or weight by the time I was two. At that point I was officially growth deficient. Some kids don't see a pediatric endocrinologist for growth deficiency until after age two, but because my father is a research physician and is acquainted with many medical specialists, he started taking me to a pediatric endocrinologist he knew who specialized in growth delays and deficiencies just before my first birthday. I've been seeing the same doctor this whole time, which is for over fifteen years. From what my baby book says, I wasn't terribly fond of the guy on my first visit, and I can't say much has changed in that regard. It didn't exactly break my heart when he said I don't have to see him again until after my eighteenth birthday. What that really means is that I don't have to go back at all if I really don't want to, since once I'm 18 I'll be making those decisions for myself. I'll probably go back just so he can document my data for his research as long as he agrees not to poke and prod too much.

My father's professional research is almost exclusively in oncology and hematology, but if my mom, my brother, or I acquire any medical condition, he instantly becomes an expert regarding that condition. Sometimes his expertise is legitimate. When my mother had thyroid eye disease, he talked to leading specialists in that field all over the world. Sometimes his expertise is mostly in his own mind. Anything that is ever wrong with my brother or me can be cured by better nutrition and by going to bed earlier. He makes these claims based on nothing but his own bull-headedness.

I believe that my father actually has actually done some reading on growth delay and deficiency-- nothing that would warrant the level of expertise he claims to have, but some, nonetheless. From his reading, he has been working for about the past eleven years on the perfect formula for a growth milkshake. We have been fighting about his formula for about that long. Before that, I drank (under heavy protest) some weird nutrition suppplemental formula from a can. I hated it, and every morning and night was mortal combat. I know now that he was making me drink the stuff for my own good, but it was positively vile! I gag just from the memories.

Then when I was five, my father decided to develop his own recipe, about which we cannot reach consensus. If there's not enough ice cream, I can taste the other stuff. If there's too much ice cream, I can't finish it and don't get all the nutrients. When I was younger, he used to threaten me with physical violence if I didn't drink it all. Now that I'm too old for that, we've been passing back and forth the same five dollar bill for about the past three years. I give it to him if I don't finish it. He gives it to me if I do. I don't know why I've never spent it when I have it, but it's probably because I've had more disposable income from my work as a church musician than most people my age. Even after I bank 80% and tithe 10%, there's a decent amount left. Also, if I didn't have the correct change, he would probably take my entire twenty and keep it until he had the opportunity to break it and give me change.

Now, more than ever, my father is convinced of the benefits of his growth shake. He's talking about patenting the recipe. He says he's going to use my name in the product. As if I want any association whatsoever with such an ill-fated product! Money-hungry person!!! Why shouldn't he just publish the recipe for all who would benefit from it? No one's going to pay for it anyway, and even if someone did, the person would just ask for his or her money back when the undersized kid refused to drink it because it tasted like $hit. Besides, it's not as if we're dirt-poor. My mom works, too. My parents would have plenty of money if they would quit helping the nieces and nephews whose parents could but refuse to pay for college. Why should any of these people pay for their kids' educations? They know my parents will come running with their checkbooks open! My parents are going to give it all away, and then there won't be any money left to send my brother or me to college, and I certainly hope that they don't think their tightwad relatives will help them out when that becomes the case. In any event, the growth shake is not going to help us financially because even the world's most gullible people have limits to their stupidity.

I asked the pediatric endocrinologist if I still needed to drink the growth shakes my father makes. He said it was up to my father because I still have the potential of growing between one and two inches. To say that this made me very upset would be a gross understatement. While I would love to grow another two inches, it's speculative at best at this point. All they know is that the growth plates haven't closed and that I haven't reached certain developmental milestones. Specifying the milestones would get into sensitive information best kept private, but you can use your imagination. In any event, at this point it should be up to me how much more I want to grow, but it apparently isn't.

We went out for dinner tonight. I had steak, and I had ice cream for dessert. It was really nice for once to have ice cream without any nasty-tasting additives.
Tomorrow night it will be back to the growth shakes. My dad has the five dollar bill, so I'll have to drink all of tomorrow night's shake or go in the hole financially.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How I Was Almost a Mormon for Six Years

My father is of French Canadian descent. His family on both sides had been Catholic for generations. Shortly after his twelfth birthday, his family relocated from their New England home to south Florida. At that point, my father would have been the oldest of seven children. My grandparents had recently lost a baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. My grandmother's understandable difficulty in dealing with the loss of her three-month-old baby, in addition to her issues with what is now known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (I don't know if the condition had yet been given a name), caused my grandfather to look for a position in an area with a sunnier climate.

The new locale apparently cured what ailed my grandmother, but my father was never thrilled with The Land of Sunshine. One drawback for him was the dearth of ice skating rinks and youth ice hockey programs. Another even more unsettling change for him was the new religion that was forced upon him a couple of years later following a visit by two young men in suits who rode up to my grandparents' home on bicycles. My father was never quite comfortable either with Florida or with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ever the dutiful eldest son, he kept most of his discontent to himself. He did insist upon continuing to attend the Catholic high school in which he was enrolled at the time of the family's conversion, but he otherwise did everything that was expected of him, which included serving a two-year mission in South America and acquiring a Bachelor of Science from the Lord's University, otherwise known as BYU.

When my father completed his four-year degree (in three years of university attendance) without having married, his parents were mildly concerned about what other Mormons in their area thought. When he chose the University of California Medical School over the University of Utah, their concern had evolved to full-blown distress. By the time my father announced to them that he was marrying a Catholic student finishing up her doctoral studies in clinical and educational psychology, they were so shaken that they virtually kidnapped him to stage some sort of make-shift deprogramming/intervention. Nevertheless, they couldn't hold him against his will in their vacation cabin forever, and were eventually forced to allow him to leave.

The wedding happened in Nebraska without the presence of either of my father's parents or any of his ten surviving siblings. Out of embarrassment over her sister's virtual disownment of a son, one of my father's aunts and her husband, whom he hadn't seen since he was thirteen, flew from New England to Nebraska to sit in the place of his parents, and were the sole representatives from my father's side of the family. My mother, the youngest of seven children, had more than enough relatives present to make up for the lack of participation on my father's side. That's the way it's mostly been since then.

My father and mother finished medical school and graduate school respectively. When my father was in his second year of a residency in oncology and hematology, my mother gave birth to twins boys at just twenty-two weeks of gestation. Neither twin survived. My father's parents' response to my parents' loss of their first-born twins was to send pamphlets on how families could be together forever. My father says that he suspects that it was his parents' vulnerability after losing a child that made them susceptible to the tactics employed by the young missionaries who showed up on their doorstep in Florida. My father, on the other hand, having served a mission himself, wasn't so likely to be sold on the approach. The pamphlets were tossed out by my father before my mother could see them.

Twenty-one months later, my brother and I were born. My brother was a robust six pounds, nine ounces, while I weighed in at just two pounds, four ounces. Despite my small size, I was strong enough from the outset that the pediatricians were confident I would be fine. They examined placentas and other evidence to determine a reason for the disparity in weights. They had agreed that the problem must have been superfetation, which occurs when a woman continues to ovulate and conceives again after having conceived in an earlier month. My mother, on the other hand, knew this not to be the case. Since the onset of menstruation, she had experienced pain with each occurrence of ovulation. In many cycles, she felt the pain of ovulation more than once. The first time she conceived, she knew it would be twins before the doctors confirmed it. With her second pregnancy, doctors insisted she was not carrying twins until her fourth month, but she knew otherwise; an ultrasound eventually confirmed her predictions. My parents, both the products of large families, made a conscious decision to keep their family size small and chose not to have any more children after us, but my mother says that roughly one month out of four she experiences multiple ovulations.

My mother's parents had both died by the time my brother and I were born, so we never knew our grandparents from her side of the family, but we had lots of great- aunts and great-uncles, aunts and uncles, and cousins. My mother's sisters and sisters-in-law took turns staying with us until my mother was strong enough to care for us on her own. Each of my mother's siblings had traveled from wherever they lived in the U. S. to visit us by the time we were a month old. In contrast, not one of my father's relatives had seen us until my parents took us to Utah, where my grandparents had moved from Florida, when we were eight months old. We didn't see them again until we were two and they offered to babysit us so that my parents could ski without us for a weekend.

My father now says that he was really naive not to have been suspicious when his parents offered to care for us for an entire weekend while my parents skied. One of his parents' pet peeves, he said, had been that my parents so regularly failed to "keep the Sabbath Day holy." With Catholics (my father had returned to his original faith after marrying my mother, although he now views all religion with some skepticism) as long as they attend mass, they consider themselves compliant on this count. Where Mormons are concerned, not only are they obligated to attend a three-hour block of church services; their entire Sunday is restricted to holy stuff. My grandparents certainly wouldn't have aided and abetted my parents in doing anything off the approved list without something up their sleeves.

I can recall things from when I was very young, and I believe that I have a vague recollection of having been blessed, although my father insists it's the power of suggestion and that I can't possibly possess actual memories of the occasion. Usually newborns are blessed in the LDS church, so it's somewhat unusual for a two-year-old child to be paraded before the congregation for what is usually a "father's" blessing of a baby two months old or younger, but for whom someone other than the father does the honors when the father is not "worthy" to perform the rite. It was my grandfather who said the actual blessings for us, although several uncles by blood and by marriage stood in the circle with their hands on us. (They may have kept it a secret from my parents, but the LDS faction of the family was in on the secret and showed up in full force.) I think I remember that they were unsure of the protocol in blessing toddlers. When it's an infant that is blessed, the father holds it and the others place their hands usually under its body. My brother was fairly tall for his age; I'm sure I remember someone carrying out a chair from the table where "The Sacrament"("communion" for the rest of Christendom)was customarily prepared. They sat my brother on the chair and placed their hands on his head. He was typically docile and cooperative throughout the blessing. Then it was my turn. This part I'm absolutely certain I can remember, as I can recall being traumatized by the experince.although my father is doubtful of my claims of early memories here as well. I was roughly half the weight of my brother, so my uncles held me with their hands, which was just as well, because I probably wouldn't have stayed on the chair if they'd put me there, and they would have had to chase a screaming toddler who ran out of their chapel. What I remember is being grasped all over my body by hands of men related to me but whom I really didn't know. Their hands were so large and my body was so tiny that there wasn't really enough of me for each of them to grasp. The sensible thing for them to have done would have been to have one or two of the uncles sit this one out, but for some reason they all wanted a part in this unsanctioned blessing. I can remember struggling and screaming in that ear-splitting way that only a two-year-old can accomplish for the duration of the blessing. My grandfather tried to talk over my screams, but it's unlikely that anyone in the congregation heard a word he said. I must have exhausted myself so much from struggling and screaming that I slept through the rest of the three-hour block, because I have no memory of anything else happening at church that day. Apart from the symbolic nature of the occasion, the major significance of the "blessing" each of us received is that we were, at that point, LDS children of record.

Fast-forward to two years later, when the Primary (LDS children's organization) President of the California ward in which we resided at the time called to find out why the twins had not attended Primary yet. My mother had no idea what the lady was talking about. My mother asked my father about it when he came home that night. A few hours and phone calls later, it was sorted out. My father was so enraged that he vowed never to speak to either of his parents again. My mother was, as is her nature, more philosophical about the entire affair. She thought my grandparents probably did the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Furthermore, she felt that it was a meaningless gesture unless she and my father chose to lend meaning to it. It did mean that each time we moved, which was several times in those early years, one of my parents would have to explain to some well-meaning Latter-day Saint who was unlucky enough to be assigned the task of checking up on us, that my brother and I were blessed without my parents' knowledge and that we weren't actually LDS children.

When my brother and I turned eight, my parents heightened security with regard to us and dad's side of the family (who did, after all, more or less kidnap my dad before he married my mom) to ensure that we wouldn't be carried off to some remote location to be baptized. I'm not sure if there were any attempts, but I do remember my dad calling my grandparents when he thought we were asleep and telling them that he would press kidnapping charges if they as much as pointed either of us in the direction of a mud puddle.

When the direct approach was unsuccessful, my grandparents tried the indirect approach of having the children of local Mormons befriend us. After I ran away from the parking lot of a local Mormon ward meetinghouse upon arriving there with the family of a child with whom I had spent a Saturday night, my parents became very protective, and wouldn't allow us to go to the home of any other child without thoroughly checking the family out. In the climate of even ten years ago, this was something they probably should have been doing in the first place, Mormonism nothwithstanding.

In any event, my brother and I have reached the age of sixteen without having been dunked, Mormon style. Sometimes when I'm really upset with my father, I will wait until he thinks I'm over whatever is bothering me, then I'll mention that I'm seriously considering seeking out my Mormon roots. My father used to take the bait and become very upset at any mention of my associating with Mormons, but lately he's grown wiser to my ploys. The last time I brought up the topic, he suggested that conventional Mormonism is probably too mainstream for my tastes, and that I might be happier with an offshoot organization, such as Warren Jeffs' FLDS church. Though I was highly tempted to give him a prominent display of my middle finger, I resisted the urge, because I'm not a complete moron.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rooftop Gymnastics and My New Sport

Eventually I started high school but not on cheerleading squad. I had played tennis with my family since I was a child. One of my uncles is or was a college tennis coach. (We have a large family and I'm lucky to know who is even related to me, much less what their current occupational status is. One lady who works with my mom will have nieces or nephews walk into their office, and my mom will ask, "Aren't you even going to greet your aunt?" to which they reply "Who's my aunt?" at the same time the lady says, "This is my niece [or nephew]?" I at least recognize my close relatives by sight.)

I'm not particularly gifted at tennis, but I've had more instruction than most of the others around here, so I was #2 on varsity my freshman year. It was OK, but I'm not passionate about it. I played for one season - long enough to only have to enroll in one year of PE.

In the spring of my freshman year the diving coach approached me and asked me about joining the diving team. My initial response was "Thanks but no thanks." The diving team practices very early in the morning. This year it's at 5:15 a.m. My freshman year it was at 5:00 a.m. To express my feelings in mild terms, I love sleep and I don't love early mornings. I could never be a Mormon in good standing, as are many of my cousins, because they have to attend an early morning class called "seminary" before school. They study LDS scriptures. They study some of the same ones that Catholics do, but they have the Book of Mormon and some other stuff as well. Even if they weren't discouraged from drinking Dr. Pepper and other tasty drinks, I'd have problems with that religion just from the early morning class standpoint.

My Mormon relatives believe that I will never achieve the highest degree of glory in heaven, or even the lowest degree of glory in the highest part of heaven (I know; I'm confused, too) by not joining up with them. If I feel so strongly about sleep that I'm willing to risk my eternal salvation so I won't have to get up too early, why would I want to get up at roughly the same hour to dive into a pool of cold water? (It's technically a heated pool, although not heated to a very comfortable temperature because what's comfortable to us is too warm for the competitive swimmers. Furthermore, even if it were as warm as bath water, it would still be cold when you got out of the pool in the early morning hours, which you must do frequently when you're a diver.)

So it looked for all intents and purposes as though my diving career was over before it even started. Then the diving coach explained it in a different way. "I heard you like gymnastics but your parents won't let you do them any more," he said. He had my attention. I wondered what my gymnastics participation could have to do with diving. "When you dive, you basically do gymnastics in the air for five seconds until you hit the water."

"Do my parents know that diving is 'gymnastics in the air before you hit the water?'" I asked.

"I won't tell them if you won't," he answered.

Since then, I've been hooked. The person who was formerly the biggest a.m. slug in the western hemisphere now eagerly jumps out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and hurriedly gets dressed for diving practice. Even though we only live two blocks from my school, I am not allowed to walk to school for diving practice because it's too early and the boogeyman might get me, so one of my parents, usually my Dad, who is up anyway, either walks with me or drives me to practice, depending on the weather. I would walk in the rain because I'm just going to get wet anyway, but my dad doesn't like to walk in the rain. Older adults often have forgotten what things are fun.

My parents have apparently not figured out the gymnastics/diving connection, because I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't be allowed to dive if they knew that diving is "gymnastics in the air for five seconds before you hit the water."

Then this spring another coach approached me. It seems that there is a connection between gymnastics and hurdling as well. Many track coaches recruit hurdlers from gymnastics and ballet programs. My coach was explaining it to me in motor learning terms. (Physical education teachers have usually taken a course in motor learning.)He referred to a concept in motor learning known as "positive transfer." Every skill in any given sport either has "positive transfer," where the skill from one sport lends itself directly to another sport's skill; "negative transfer," where a skill from one sport actually interferes with the skill acquisition in another sport (think tennis vs. badminton, or even the phyiscal nature of football vs. the essentially non-contact nature of basketball); or "zero transfer" (the skills I acquired in gymnstics would for the most part neither help or hurt me on the softball field). The leaping and extension of legs that are essential in gymnastics are also needed for hurdling, and the leg strength vs. body mass of a gymnast unsually translates to good overall speed. Additionally, though I'm short, I'm proportionately long-limbed, especially for a gymnast. Even if I had been good enough to reach the highest levels of the sport, this might have interfered. The best gymnasts have compact mesomorphic bodies. I'm an ectomorph by nature - not optimal for gymnastics, but perfect for hurdling. For hurdling I'd be better off it I weren't just "proportionately long-limbed," but long-limbed period. C'est la vie. One cannot have everything.

We're still working out my optimal distances. I'm probably best suited to 200 meter and 300 meter hurdles, but I'm trying everything until we figure it out. The track coach has a brain. It's caused me to rethink the "dumb jock" stereotype, as I wouldn't have looked at him and guessed that he was intelligent. He holds a master's degree in exercise physiology. My father told me that many tough science courses would have been required for the attainment of his degree. Appearances can be deceiving. I knew him slightly because freshman P. E. classes are jointly taught. We never had any run-ins, but I didn't have enough in common with the man to actually converse with him at that point.

It wasn't easy to convince my parents that I should do two sports in one season. It also required the coaches to sign an agreement with the athletic director. Because I was first on the diving team, on the three occasions when scheduled events conflict, I will participate in the diving event unless the coach is fairly certain the team can win without me or won't win even if I am there. My parents have stipulated that my grades can't drop below "A minus" in any subject if I am to continue with both sports. The athletic director went along with that as well. Normally if a parent pulls a kid off a team for grades when he or she is still academically eligible to play, the athlete is barred from participating in another sport that season or any sport the following season. Since I'm in two sports, my parents are allowed to pull me out of one for grade reasons. I could be pulled for either or both for health reasons as well, but that shouldn't be an issue.

The only problem so far is that I have limited time to watch Judge Alex. I refuse to give up Judge Alex.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rooftop Gymnastics and My New Sport

When I was younger, I was a gymnast. It started as a hobby but became more intense as I progressed. By the time I reached my peak, I hadn't yet acquired all the skills to reach the Elite level, but wasn't terribly far away. I was spending roughly twenty hours each week at the gym where I trained. Because my parents both worked, they were minimally involved. Through part of my gymnastics training, my mother was dealing with major illnesses (one was life-threatening), which caused my parents to be even less involved. They or another relative usually transported me to and from the gym, and they attended an occasional competition, but mostly they just threw money at the directors of the gymnastics programs (we relocated a couple of times during my gymnastics training) and told them to take me away. That ended abruptly on an autumn afternoon when I was ten.

Because gymnastics is a very expensive sport (my father's reason), or because too much time spent on one activity at a young age isn't necessarily a good thing (my mother's reason), my parents opted to have me participate in very close to the minimum number of required competitions. That still left me involved in frequent weekend meets but it gave me what most gymnasts at my level didn't have, which was an occasional weekend at home. On one of those weekends, my family was in the process of spending our usual quality time together. This meant that my father was inside watching football on TV (I think it was a Saturday, so it was presumably college football), my mother was in her room asleep, and my brother and I were outside thinking of dangerous things we could dare each other to do.

My brother had climbed a pine tree to get onto the roof of our two-story home. He first climbed on top of the garage, then made his way to the lowest part of the house roof, and finally onto the very highest part. Once there, he observed that the beam running the length of the roof was "about as wide as that thing you do gymnastics tricks on." His statement was reflective of how little attention my family paid to my participation in gymnastics: my very own twin brother didn't know what a balance beam was called. He then went on to suggest that a gymnast who wasn't a coward could probably "do tricks right here on the roof of our house."

I recognized that he was baiting me, but I couldn't pass on the challenge. "What'll you give me if I do it?" I asked.

"I'll visit you in the hospital after you fall," or something very similar to that, he replied.

"I won't do it unless you give something!" I demanded.

"A dollar," he offered.

"Ten, " I countered.

"Five," he shot back.

"Okay, five" I agreed.

I navigated the limbs of the pine tree and made my way up the various levels of the roof until I joined him on the highest part. "What do I need to do?" I asked him.

"Some of those flip things," he replied.

I may have been foolish at that age, and may still be to some degree, but I wasn't suicidal. "I'm not doing any round-offs or back handsprings up here," I told him, looking down at the ground so far below.

"You can't just walk. I'm not paying you to do something I can do," he argued.

We finally agreed on a back walkover and a cartwheel. I told him to get out of the way. I walked to far the end of the roof, took a deep breath, turned around, and went right into the back walkover followed by a cartwheel. . . and now I'm speaking from a wheelchair into an assistive technology device that will translate my spoken words into print. Not really. I'm kidding, although it could have ended up that way. The maneuvers were ones I'd been doing on the beam since my first year out of the "Mommy and Me" gymnastics classes that my brother and I took, and the beam on the roof was nearly identical in width to an actual balance beam, but it was on the roof of a two-story house. God was apparently protecting fools that day, and I escaped unscathed. . . more or less, anyway.

Just as I was executing the maneuvers, a neighbor guy across the street came out his front door. The rest is history, as is my gymnastics career. (My parents had already paid non-refundable fees for the first half of the year, but that wasn't even a consideration to them. To this day I haven't seen the inside of another gymnastics facility.) I won't say exactly what happened, as it is embarrassing to admit that my parents were ever so barbaric, but I will say that I believe my father would have been arrested if we had been in Sweden. My sole consolation was that my brother's role in the reckless activity was not overlooked, and my father would have been arrested in Sweden for what happened to him as well. That and, I should add, my brother and I had and still have a code. Even if we get caught, we always pay up on bets or dares. I was five dollars richer when we were finally allowed out of our rooms.

At the end of my eighth grade year, when tryouts for the next year were in progress, the high school cheerleading coach attempted to recruit me. This came as a surprise, as I don't look, act, dress, or think much like a typical cheerleader if there is any such thing. (I'm not overly fond of the cheerleaders with whom I'm acquainted [most of the ones in my school lust after my brother] but I do try to avoid sterotyping people into narrow pigeon-hole categories.) I don't think I would have taken the cheer coach up on the offer anyway, but once her motives became clear to my parents, the choice was taken out of my hands. I was needed on the squad for two reasons: 1. because of my background as a gymnast; 2. because my weight at the time (seventy-five pounds) would have made me the perfect flyer. (I'm now up to a whopping 87 pounds. I don't think I'm fat in the least and I don't diet. I'm genetically small, but I should eventually reach the small-normal adult size range.) The lady even said she'd bump me up to varsity from the onset. It wouldn't have mattered what she said. Either of those reasons by themselves were enough to keep me off the cheer squad. Both combined meant my parents didn't even bother to discuss it. They tried to let the coach down nicely, but she persisted in begging, so they finally gave up and escorted her out of our home as politely as they could. My cheerleading career was over before it even started. Fortunately for me, I never wanted to be a cheerleader anyway.

I thought I was going to get a brief turn on the apparati again. There was a limit to what tumbling my parents could prevent on the floor or the grass when they weren't watching,(though they did watch us both very closely after my rooftop gymnastics incident) but they effectively cut me off from all contact with the vault, beam, and uneven bars. In my freshman year, I was required to take P.E. A gymnastics unit was part of the rotation. I was really excited. When I showed up in the gym all dressed out and ready to go, however, the instructor handed me a nurse's office summons slip. I changed back into my regular clothing and headed to the nurse's office wondering what she could possibly want from me. What she wanted was to tell me that I had a doctor's excuse signed by my own father, excusing me from P.E. for the next four weeks - the length of the gymnastics rotation, of course.

By now I must surely be approaching the length limit with this post, so I'll continue it later. Wouldn't it be great if we could all do that with school assignments?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Funeral Alcoholics Anonymous-Style

I played the piano for a funeral this morning. I didn't know the deceased. More often than not, I don't know the person at whose funeral I'm playing, which is a bit odd considering the size of the city where I live. It's probably easier that way. If you or I died, we wouldn't want the musician weeping all over the piano or organ, then screwing up the music either because she or he couldn't see through tears or because the keys were slippery. I wonder who had to play music at J. S. Bach's funeral. That would have been a very daunting task for anyone who believed in life after death or that the deceased might be lurking.

The deceased at this funeral had been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for more than fifty years. Most of the people in attendance at the funeral were members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The funeral proceeded like any other funeral until it came to the open microphone session that has become common at funerals. Every person who approached the microphone said, "I'm ------ and I'm an alcolholic," after which the congregation responded with an enthusiastic, "Hi, _____!" My mom told me that in A.A. and the other assorted Anonymous organization meetings, that's standard protocol.

At this point, the funeral was moving into slightly unorthodox territory, but the priest didn't appear overly concerned. Then a man named Gus stepped up for his turn at the mike. He began with the standard A. A. opening, but soon ventured into dangerous territory in a Catholic church when he launched into a litany of all the brothels he had visited with the deceased and spoke of how much time the two of them had spent cruising ****** Street, which is the known red light district in our area.

The piano in this particular church is located in the choir loft, so I couldn't see the faces of the family, but the priest became noticeably pale. He stood up about three times while Gus was speaking, then sat down again. He stood a fourth time, then walked up to the side podium where the scripture readers usually stand. He looked up at me and asked as the guy was still talking, "Can we have a hymn, please?" When I was younger it caused me great distress when a bride fainted or something else went off-kilter and I was asked to play an unplanned song to cover or camouflage something -- I'll write another time about the school Christmas program I inadvertently sabotaged-- but now I know at least to be mentally prepared to play something at any given point in a service or program. I played Handel's "I know That My Redeemer Liveth" because it was loud enough to drown Gus out if he created a disturbance as he was escorted away from the microphone. It ended up not mattering, because Gus surrendered without undue protestations.

After the funeral, I heard one of the funeral directors say that Gus had fallen pretty far off the wagon and probably needed to attend his A. A. meetings more faithfully. I probably should have known the guy was drunk, because my mom is Irish, and, not to be overly stereotypical, but she has her share of lushes in her family. Gus wasn't slurring his words in the way that I've seen my Uncle Ralph's brother Joe do when he's polished off a fifth of something potent, but Gus must have consumed enough of something to effectively block his filter.

The priest who officiated at this funeral was one I'd never even seen before. He looked a great deal like Peewee Herman (Paul Reubens, actually, I think). For all I know, Pee Wee may have taken the vows. I approached the priest and said that since we didn't have any say in the guest list at these functions, we deserve to be paid more when the guests acted up and we had to cover unexpectedly. He handed me a quarter from his pocket. It's probably wrong to accept money from a priest, but I needed the quarter to have enough change to get a soda from the church office machine because the dollar slot is always jammed, so I said thanks and kept it. He looked at me very strangely.

When my mom came to pick me up during her lunch break -- I'm not old enough to have my driver's license or even my learner's permit  -- she told me about a funeral at which she played. The woman died sitting in an easy chair, and rigor mortis set in before she was found, so she had to be wired into a reclining position in the coffin under her clothing. The person who did the wiring should have used stronger wire, or at least more of it, because the wires broke and she shot up into a sitting position right in the middle of the service. Everyone alive in the church, including the priest, the next of kin, and my mom, ran out of the church screaming. Not that I'd like the shock, but I'd pay to play for a funeral (as opposed to being paid) if I could be guaranteed that or something equally interesting would happen.

After school, I caught an episode of Judge Alex. The case was routine except that the plaintiff brought medical documentation of a need for surgery from her chiropractor. Not that I listen to everything my father says, but one of the first things he would tell you if he were here is that a chiropractor isn't qualified to determine whether surgery is necessary. The plaintiff went on to say that the chiropractor also presided at weddings and funerals, and had done her husband's funeral. I suppose just about anybody off the street can officiate at a funeral, as the deceased won't come out of the grave or otherwise suddenly become un-dead; probably no particular certification is needed just for conducting the funeral as long as you're not embalming the body. Weddings, on the other hand . . . If someone were married by that chiropractor, it might be a good idea to check into the legality of his or her marriage.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Preface: the Packet, The District Technology Policy, and Other Senseless Drivel

I am slowly being allowed to breathe again by people who have control over such things. Once long ago (almost three years ago, to be precise) I posted too much identifying information at a website. It was stupid if unintentional. No predator actually took the inadvertent bait, but authorities trying to catch and/or prevent illegal activity came across it and sent men in suits to my school. Please note that using a proxy server to bypass a school's filtering (censoring) system may grant a student access to blocked sites, but if it is worth their time, the goon squad can and will tell the fascists at your school everything that has been accessed and even by whom in many cases . . . such as, unfortunately, mine.

The men in suits didn't arrest me, or even do anything close to that, because I wasn't involved in any sort of illegal activity. At this point, my blog probably sounds like an introduction to a life of crime in the making, while nothing could be further from the truth. All I did, besides make potential contact too easy for the nonexistent deviant, was violate The School District's Technology Policy. Therein lies the major source of my difficulty for the past nearly three years.

If you have been a student or parent for the past fifteen years or so, you are probably quite familiar with The Packet. Every year the school district sends it home to be completed and returned. It's sometimes handed out at some sort of orientation. If not, it's sent home with the student on the first day of school, and expected to be completed and returned by midnight, or at least by the following school day. The school district asks for information which they already have from the previous year, and for which they have no possible use. (Realistically, all they need to know is any change in address, phone numbers, or emergency contacts.) I don't qualify for a free lunch, so why does the district need my parents' annual income for the past three years, and the social security numbers of my entire family? The district even questioned the validity of my and my brother's photocopied social security cards because we are twins with the same birthdate, but only the first three digits of our SSNs are in proximity to one another. Another year, my mother filled out The Packet for me while my father completed my brother's. They listed slightly different household incomes. The district fascists picked up on the discrepancy and pounced on it. They treated my parents like suspected terrorists who were intentionally perjuring themselves in The Packet even though my mother is an administrator in the district and my father is a respected (?) physician. These people trust no one.

This is beside the point, but my parents have endured many difficult times throughout their marriage, including the virtual disownment of my father by his own parents (which included an aborted lawsuit by his parents in an attempt to recover the costs of his undergraduate degree when he left their church), medical school (father), graduate school (mother), the death of twin preemies (both), the birth of living twins (my brother and me), Graves' Disease (my mother), Thyroid Eye Disease (mother), leukemia, (mother), and midlife crisis (father). They weathered these events, some of which would be considered life-altering if not downright tragic, without the slightest threat to the strength of their marriage. The only times my brother and I have ever been worried about a divorce looming on the horizon were when they argued over who had to fill out The Packet for each of us. (After the year when they were accused of quasi-terrorism for providing discrepant data, they decided that for any given year, one parent would take care of both Packets. That was the year my mother threw a plastic bottle of Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Syrup at my father, which he caught, and which is the closest either of my parents has come, at least as far as I know, to perpetrating domestic violence upon one another; what they do behind closed doors is strictly their own business, and I want no knowledge of it.) The Packet has that effect on the most stable of families, and, in my opinion, was deliberately designed with that object in mind, but I digress; that is a subject for another blog on another day.

Anyway, The Packet asks for so much information -- often the same information over and over on multiple forms, in an attempt to trip parents up by seeing if they answer the same questions differently on different pages -- that after about an hour of filling out the forms, the brain of anyone supplying such redundant and often irrelevant information has turned to Play Doh and the reader/writer is not aware of anything which he or she has signed or to which he or she has agreed. At about that point, one comes to The District Technology Policy, which is to be signed and dated by both the student and the parent. It is typed in a font size no larger than three. Even if the parent could read it and knew that it authorized the district to cut off all fingers and toes of any student caught in violation of The District Technology Policy, the parent has, in all likelihood, been worn down to the point of blind submission and would willingly sign the document just to be rid of The Packet. Students, who can actually read fonts that small, don't read The District Technology Policy just because they could not possibly care any less what it says and think none of it applies to them, and they're right 99.999995% of the time. For me, unfortunately, I was one of the five in one-hundred-million for whom it would ultimately matter.

The school district officials took a very martyred stance to my Misuse of Technology, informing my parents of all the damages for which they could be forced to pay but were, out of the goodness of the district officials' collective hearts, being waived. For the record, there were no damages. If anything, I did the district a favor by exposing them to flaws in their filtering (censoring) sytem.

My parents, likewise, took a martyred stance, informing me that they had every right to beat me but were, out of the goodness of their hearts, deferring that right in favor of not letting me near a computer for the foreseeable future.
This may seem a small price to pay; however, I was, for all practical intents and purposes, isolated from the world. I was reduced to face-to-face contact with friends, as my parents' archaic style of parenting didn't even allow my brother and me to have cell phones at the time. To the other students at our school, my brother and I were viewed similarly to the way most of today's teens would view the adolescents at Warren Jeffs' Yearning for Zion or Colorado City/Hillsdale compounds. (No one ever actually said this to me. They didn't need to, because I could see it in their eyes.) Furthermore, who in his or her right mind would attempt a worthwhile conversation on a land line with parents eagerly hanging on to each spoken word?

I will say for myself that I used my time of virtual incarceration wisely. The most significant of my achievements was to expose the woeful inadequacies of the libraries of the middle and high schools I attended. As I was not granted access to computer-based research, I was relegated to relying upon encylopedias and other ancient primary sources. I once authored a paper on the topic of "The Lunar Expedition." My concluding sentence was something to the effect of, "Some day man may actually land and walk upon the moon." My teacher, of course, tried to give me a failing grade on the paper, but was forced to concede when he could not find a single piece of non-computer-based writing in the school library that contradicted my concluding sentence. The only actual encyclopedia the library offered was printed in 1968, and was kept as sort of a relic for the purpose of showing students how research was collected in prehistoric times. No books on the topic were kept; because students tended to rely upon the internet for scienctific or historical research topics, nearly all non-fiction books were sold at district auctions. The only actual books the library held were works of fiction.

As I was required to write research papers without the use of technology, I had the unfortunate experience of using a typewriter. Most people have no idea just how difficult it is to use a typewriter. My style of keyboarding is to type at an extremely rapid rate but to make almost countless errors. This works perfectly well when using a computer if a person proofreads well, but when typing on a typewriter, corrections must be made using either a correction ribbon on the machine or with liquid paper, both of which add thickness and weight to the paper. When someone makes as many errors as I usually do, each sheet of paper weighs around ten ounces by the time the corrections have been made. I eventually made a deal with my brother to take all of his turns at doing the dishes for two weeks for each of my papers he typed. At the expense of belaboring the FLDS analogy, with the exception of Warren Jeffs' wives and other females at the compound, I was one of the youngest people in the nation with dishpan hands.

My parents eventually allowed me extremely limited computer access. I was first allowed to use the computer to type school assignments, then to do limited Internet research when a parent was in the room with me. Less than a year ago I was allowed to have a Twitter page giving only the vaguest indication of my geographic location. (For the record, I used and continue to use my actual first name but a different surname.) My parents have put some sort of control (censorship) on all of our home computers so that every keystroke I make is recorded. They said that they really didn't care what awful things I say about them as long as Chris Matthews or whatever that "To Catch a Sexual Predator" guy's name is doesn't show up with his producers and say they want to film an encounter with me and the predator with whom I've been in contact.

That's what they said again, along with the warning not to disclose any names, school names, or locations when they gave me permission to blog . . . They obviously think I'm a complete moron. The truth of the matter is: A) they know that hardly anyone will ever read this blog, so it's a harmless way for them to give in; B) that everything I write here can and will be used against me. They're probably deliberately setting me up, but I'll make it not quite so easy by writing some things that are true and some that aren't quite true, and I'll leave it to the reader to sort fact from fiction. At least 90% of what is written will be the Gospel truth, but I reserve the right to revert to fiction when it is necessary for self-preservation.