Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Days!

I'm off . . . to Tennessee . . . to family . . . to listen to a friend going through the darkest of days . . . to bask in the joy that comes from teenage nieces who think I'm cool . . . to try and get to know a nephew that physical distance has equaled an emotional one as well for far too long . . . to help my mother cope with hostessing . . . to laugh with my sister as we share a stocking and several cups of coffee on Christmas morning . . . to remember once again that my brother is a gentle man . . . to check on Doc . . . to don an outrageous piece of Christmas head gear (I'm thinking the antlers), put down the top and give Greenfield something to talk about . . . to live in the expectancy that is Christmas.

Hope you have full and happy days as well . . .

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Call Me A Lot of Things But Never 'Boring'

Moods shift at Christmas. So much expectation (both good and bad) hangs in the air Houston's humidity seems tame in comparison.

So on Friday night, I was determined to lift the spirit of a hard-working-rarely-playing-serious-student-who-is-over-50 friend of mine. We put the right mix of people in my car, put the top down on what I'm now seeing as my personal Christmas sleigh, donned amazingly tacky head gear (from an Elmer Fudd Seasons Greetings fake fur number to one girl's phallic symbol candy cane with attached misletoe to reindeer antlers) and stocked up on wrapped peppermint sticks. We then proceeded to some of the more festive areas of town and distributed the candy to anyone brave enough to accept it. We found the inline skaters who were out in mass in one neighborhood willing recipients!

My buddy deemed the night a smashing success and seemed restored enough to return to his retail-at-Christmas-omigod existence for the next week.

Yesterday my mission centered on showing a new Brit friend a proper Houston experience. We made our way by the Rothko chapel and found an appropriate balance of appreciation for both the contemplative space and the sheer audacity of covering humungous canvases with one color and deeming it art. Next we traveled to a nearby outdoor labyrinth for her first ever experience with this meditation device.

Did I mention it was raining?

When we got there the puddles were confined to the far outer circle. The drops were intermitent and seemed to be dissipating. I asked if she really wanted to risk the dampness and she was adamant that she was in.

Oh silly us.

By the time we finished, water was rushing down the bridge of her nose. She had nothing dry on her body. The rain had increased. We truly "walked on water" as we made our way through what was now a labyrinth puddle. And it was glorious!

Cranking up the heat and driving quickly but carefully back to my place we threw everything in the dryer and let hot showers and hot tea warm us. Lots of good conversation later we were once again toasty and ready for the evening.

Since my new friend is an actress I had wanted to introduce her to the theater scene in my adopted city but alas Monday night the lights are out on our venues. EXCEPT . . .

Houston's oldest dinner theater burned down last week and a group of former performers from there decided to make their Christmas cabaret act into a charity benefit for the waitstaff and performers who are now without work over the holidays. The Hobby Center even opened up (with FREE parking so you KNOW it was a charity experience) so that they could have a proper stage. So we had a nice meal made better by a really great waiter and sped downtown for the performance.

Having just told my buddy about my lack of enthusiasm for musical theater, she confessed that she had to smile when the entire show was a Broadway revue. I found that if I closed my eyes and tried not to concentrate on the forced smiles and canned choreography, it was a not too unpleasant experience. 'Cause you know . . .

"We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. We need a little Christmas now!" (and if you've seen as many Christmas variety shows as I've seen you can choose to pretend you just heard Donnie and Marie sing that or Andy Williams)

The night turned more pleasant than the day and we once again put the top down, tried to find the usual lights of Christmas downtown (what's up Macy's? you couldn't find Foley's massive light displays after you bought out the Houston mainstay????) and then determined that we needed to return to the blessed to bless neighborhood with themed streets.

And once again we found ourselves face to face with Gloria. She's the 59 year old woman who spends 32 days covering everything she can find with multi-color lights -- including a non-functioning cadillac which gets 4200 bulbs alone! She sits in her driveway with her neighbors who appeared to enjoy another reason to imbibe and greets the cars that drive by. Music blares from unseen speakers and she regales the crowd with stories of how she does what she does. After we made a small donation to her electric bill she even gave us a couple of photos so that my buddy would have something to verify the experience with.

A bit of wassail later at a friend's and I felt I'd done my elfing duty for the day.

Hope you and yours are having an equally exciting Christmas season!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tell Me I Didn't Do This!

Nice party. Nice friends. I handled being the "host's date" with ease. We laughed. We danced. The night went well.

So having waited to the last minute to make my way across Houston to meet a girlfriend who will be staying with me a couple of nights, I'm in a hurry. The car seems to be on but with the radio blaring I'm not sure. I note quickly that I haven't got enough gas for the hour's drive. I'm checking dials and pretending to listen to his goodbye as he leans into the window for a kiss.

And then it happens . . .

I look up, wave, and say, "Ok, love ya! ... "

Of course, I then immediately move to "WAIT!!! No I don't. I didn't mean that. I ABSOLUTELY didn't mean that. Not now. Not ever. Really."

Sweet man that he is, he assures me that he's already recognized I'm a bit distracted and totally understands the miscommunication.

I drive away with the sinking feeling that I'm a total idiot.

After I fill the tank, I call.

"Ok, try this . . . 'loved the pary', 'i have a lovely time', 'loved meeting your friends' -- choose one and pretend I said that, will you?"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I Can't Get No . . .

Yesterday a friend asked me what I wanted for Christmas. We were emailing back and forth (because, argh, he has yet to get into instant messaging) and I replied with a tongue in cheek answer that was -- at the time -- supposed to be teasingly vague and intriguing.


I get points for vague but I think I was more intrigued than he with the speed in which I came up with this and later the actual truth of it.

Growing up in my oh-so-fundamentalist-but-I-didn't-know-it church, we sang "I am satisfied. . . . I am satisfied with Jesus." Today my little coffeehouse community will at times sing the song "Enough." But I don't sing that one. At least I haven't since I really considered the words, "Jesus, you're more than enough for me."

I don't sing it because . . . well, it's not true. At least not for me. At least not yet. OK, sometimes I allow for the fact that I want it to be true and so I'll sing in the hope of its reality in my life. But for the most part, I use this time to pray and ask God why satisfaction seems to be such an illusion for me.

Now, before some of you get out of sorts, let me clarify. Yes, I know that I have all that I need by way of physical comforts. The roof over my head may be someone else's floor but my humble abode is perfectly suited to my personality and the limits of my hospitality. The food I eat is beyond filling . . . even my snacks are exotic and luscious. My clothes are as stylish as I can push myself to attempt. I'm truly covered in every way. And believe me, "grateful" is with me all day, every day. I am absolutely grateful. But satisfied?

Satisfaction feels almost like an illusion . . . like smoke rising after the magician yells "abracadabra." I see it in the distance, exposed by the light, but touching it? Not really an option.

I know that greed makes many want for more. I know that addictions attempt to fill the hole. I know that many a religious fanatic would swear that Jesus has taken care of all that for them and (after saying a simple prayer with all heads bowed and eyes closed) will do so for me, you and whoever else we can grab as well.

But, I don't see it. I don't see satisfaction in those folks. I see striving similar to gerbils in a wheel, spinning without relocating to anywhere new. Even the ones that I know have some degree of peace . . . they're still "working at" this whole faith thing.

Peace . . . that's really what I'm talking about. You see that don't you? A peace that calms the want, quells the desire, caps the longing . . . now that would be satisfaction.

The angels told us it was coming -- peace on earth, good will, etc. But still we can't quite seem to get such satisfaction.

So . . . if you have some to spare . . . put a bow on it and send it my way, ok?

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Shitty Day

The title may get me blocked from any number of screens (though why everyone else's filters should work better than mine which allows 200 email offers for watches, stocks, and erectile dysfunction solutions each day is confusing me). But it's the truth. While the shit didn't hit the fan, it was everywhere else.

Roger and I were actually experiencing a slow day at Omega House. We had every intention of doing a major cleanup in the kitchen as instructed. Only four residents were on hand and one of them was heading to church so we figured after bed changes we were good to go on the whole kitchen thing.

Silly, silly us.

We rushed into the den when we heard one of the residents call out. "M" had fallen out of the chair. As we helped him back to his seat, we noticed his clothes were wet. Since he wore a catheter we knew what it wasn't. I, being ever the hopeful one, started looking for the orange juice glass he'd obviously spilled.

Roger, whose head was not as stopped up as mine, pointed out that it wasn't juice.

We helped the nurse get him first in the wheel chair and then back to his room. Roger assisted in there while I tended to disinfecting the den furniture. I arrived in time to see how bad the next few minutes were going to be. (For those of you who think I've already shared way too many details already, just skip this blog entry now.)

What we couldn't quite figure out was how it could be everywhere . . . thighs, calves, even his feet! And so very much of it. . . I swear nurses should get combat pay.

My hero, David, did the bulk of the cleanup with Roger assisting. I held the trash bag and made the executive decision that most of the soiled clothes were beyond rescue. As David finally cared for the wound that made this man's backside look like hamburger meat and had the diaper halfway taped up, Roger was the first to see. Seems "M" wasn't finished with his moving experience.

We started over.

Bed baths weren't new to us but working around all the soiled sheets and clothes and wipes and whatever was certainly ... uh ... interesting. I scrubbed on his feet for quite some time --somehow rationalizing that if his feet were cleaned that would wash away all that I'd just seen. We bathed him and bathed him again. David came to the door to tell us he had visitors and we tried even harder. We were determined to make his day new again.

"M" was fairly clueless we were even in the room. He's heavily sedated and doesn't really make sense when he tries to tell us something. But we responded to whatever he was muttering as if he were a Nobel Peace Prize winner uttering great bits of wisdom.

We gave him the bath. We gave him new sheets. We gave him new clothes. We gave him his dignity.

He'd had a shitty day, but his friends never knew.

And that's what volunteers do.

More Losses

Walker said "thank you" more than any resident I've ever worked with at Omega House. He once sent another volunteer to tell me his eggs that morning were some of the best he'd ever had. (I had tried a new approach to scrambling, something I'd seen on the Food Network, but really they were just scrambled eggs!). He seemed so troubled when he had to ask for extra help -- like could we keep the mop bucket down the hall rather than at his door since the Pine Sol scent was too much for his emphysema-wracked lungs?

Walker once traveled a great deal. He was a veteran. He was from Mississippi. He loved country cooking and swapping recipes. A few months ago, he gained the freedom he'd been lacking when he got a new laptop and wirelessly connected with people and places from his past. He often spoke of "travels" he'd made right from his bed.

I learned Walker had died on Friday night at the volunteer Christmas party. On Saturday, I went to his room first. The silence was almost overwhelming. For months, the steady flow of oxygen was the sound that hit you first as you entered the room. Now ... nothing. After remembering Walker, I walked to Miles' room and thought once again of him. In a matter of moments, I learned Robyn had passed away as well. He was my veggie loving partner in crime who had taught me how to cook spaghetti squash on my last visit.

So much loss . . . but that's the way a hospice works. We are there for the dying. I'm glad, though, when we get to know something of their living before they leave us.

Monday, December 04, 2006


The memory I cherish is Miles smiling broadly (with his brand new teeth that he'd been given that very week) and waving in recognition as we shouted his name from the sidelines of the Gay Pride Parade just two short years ago. He was finally leaving Omega House after more than a year of residency, leaving healthy -- a rare feat at a hospice -- and had been asked to ride in the car that served as the organization's parade entry. He had the "homecoming queen" wave down pat by the time he got to us. We all beamed.

Miles was self-care for most of my acquaintance with him. We love "self-care". No diapers, no baths or showers to assist with, actual conversation with coherent points connecting A to Z -- that's self-care. Usually, all we provided was a cup half filled with coffee and half filled with Ensure, a nutritional supplement that gave him a mocha lift with his cigarette.

Miles wasn't supposed to live at Omega House -- in the sense that he pretty much set up residency and everyone tended to look the other way when he continued to improve and his stay extended waaaaaaay beyond the six months usually allotted for folks who come our way. He had a shelf of bric-a-brac and plants that defied the decorator's impersonal lavish designs for the rooms. He had his cigarettes. He was home.

We almost felt a friend was moving away as we waved at Miles in the parade. I remember tearing up.

About a year later, Miles returned to us. The streets and poor choices had him back to the poor health that needs continued monitoring. I kept waiting for the famous "Miles comeback tour" to begin again. It didn't.

Miles died this past weekend. His body was truly skin and bones (in this case, I'm not using hyperbole). He'd long since stopped wearing the teeth. When I was last there, he didn't even make it to the patio for one of his beloved cigarettes.

But I'll not remember that Miles. My Miles is waving, smiling and waving, and this parade has no end.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day Comes Home

I'm wearing a pin today that has a red ribbon on it. Actually, the pin is a reproduction of a stamp . . . as in "Stamp Out AIDS".

My brother was a postal worker. He collected a few stamps through the years. When I see one that intrigues me, I think of him.

My brother died but not from AIDS. He was alive one March evening and then suddenly he wasn't. In my family, hearts are full but not always strong.

Today, I'm remembering a great many dead people because today the world is supposed to be coming together to say AIDS is bad and we need to be rid of it.

I agree and I'm wearing a ribbon. But I'm also thinking about Bart and wondering what he'd think of me now. I've changed a bit since we last chatted. We used to agree to disagree about many things -- politics, religion, the way the church worked or didn't. And though many people say they can do that and then don't, Bart and I did. We loved each other and that transcended discussions about ideas. I know ideas shape us and we are our ideas but, for Bart and me, we were more than that.

Brother, sister, family. God, I'm grateful I can remember that.

Today my prayer is that those living with AIDS have a family they can turn to that gets to the heart of the matter, that those living with AIDS continue to live, and that those families who don't yet get that nothing in life is guaranteed and have not yet embraced their loved one and that people can leave us in a moment . . . well, I pray that they go now and grab the hug that I long for.