Every year around this time I get excited for the NFL players who are getting their first shot at the Super Bowl. The young players, looking to make a name for themselves. The veterans, looking to make the most of what may be their last chance to do something special on the game’s biggest stage.
And when I think of veterans getting a shot at the Super Bowl, I cannot help but be reminded of one of the biggest travesties I’ve ever witnessed in the game: Coach Ditka handing the ball for a once-in-a-lifetime Super Bowl touchdown, to William “The Fridge” Perry instead of Walter “Sweetness” Payton in Super Bowl XX.
Payton set the then-single-game rushing record at 275 yards – while suffering a 101 degree fever and the flu (a record that stood for 23 years). He earned the nickname “Sweetness”, but there was nothing soft about his running style. He would explode into would-be tacklers, often knocking them back and earning extra yards.
He was a maestro of the “Pop over the top” at the goal line for touchdowns, a viable receiver threat, and occasionally a passer as well. Payton helped turn around a losing franchise, and was must-see TV every time he touched the ball. It felt like Payton single-handedly carried the Bears for years, especially before Ditka took over. If Payton wasn’t keeping the Bears in contention for a playoff spot, he was keeping the seats filled with fans who would come just to watch him run the ball.
Then Ditka takes over, and within three years they make the playoffs; four, and they are in the Super Bowl. Ditka had his own way of doing things, he was a hard-headed, mean coach, and had other hard-headed, mean coaches working for him – like Buddy Ryan as his defensive coordinator.
Ryan and Ditka butted heads on their 1985 first-round draft pick William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Ryan thought Perry was “a wasted draft pick” and Ditka couldn’t care less. At one point, Ditka starts playing Perry at fullback on occasion, letting him either block for Payton or run it in himself when close to the opponent’s end zone.
And here is where I have the biggest beef: in Super Bowl XX, Ditka chose to give the ball to Perry TWICE down near the Patriot’s end zone. Once on a halfback option pass (a throw that Payton had made many times, whereas Perry was sacked). A second time on a straight run up the gut upon which Perry scored. I was watching that game in real-time: and I am still as pissed now as I was then. Perry may have been popular and novel, but Payton was one of the greatest to play the game. Payton deserved a shot at scoring a TD, and I am 100% certain he would have, given the chance.
I had a chance to meet Jim McMahon and I asked him about this. He said the Patriots were so keyed on Payton they would have shut down anything they did with him down near the end zone. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t buy it. Nothing could have been worse than the sack Perry took on that aborted halfback pass. And not giving Payton a shot at a TD in the biggest game in the sport is downright disrespectful. Payton’s list of accolades is ridiculously long, but the biggest thing missing is a TD in the Super Bowl – something his coach never gave him a chance to do.
What player do you think has been most short-changed in the Super Bowl?
Dogs can smell death; you can see it in their eyes at the pound. Tolstoy could, for sure, and he was thankful as all hell when a familiar face came to get him at the San Francisco animal shelter.
The year was 1994, and I had just driven across the heat of the Sacramento valley in my beat-up Toyota pickup truck on the hunch that Tolstoy was on death row. I had met Tol once before, at a friend of my then-girlfriend ’s house. She had insisted that her buddy had the dog I’d been pining for – a beautiful Akita-Husky with a wicked sense of humor.
Tolstoy had been found on Ocean Beach in San Francisco by a couple who took him in and put up signs all over their neighborhood. “Found: Husky Mix Puppy: Pick Up In Two Weeks Or We Shall Find a Loving Home” The friend, Randy, had immediately gone over and told them that if no-one stepped up, he’d take the puppy.
Weeks later, hen I met Tolstoy for the first time at Randy’s house, my first thought was how incredibly pretty a dog he was. And he knew it. He’d just been given a bath when we rolled up, and he was preening.
Inside, Tolstoy was all to happy to show off his dominance, and promptly dug into the trash in Randy’s bedroom once we were all seated. I told Randy he had better train that dog or he’d walk all over him – I had no idea how right I was.
Tolstoy was an Akita – Husky mix. Two of the most stubborn and independent breeds you are ever likely to find in a dog. Mixed together, he was a wildebeest. Within a month or so, Randy’s upstairs neighbors were complaining, and his landlord was making rumblings.
Randy called me to see what I could do, and I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted that dog, and knew he and I would get along. My first move was to stupidly call the property manager on our South Lake Tahoe Barrio rental to see if I could please, please add a dog to our lease. Of course he said no, and so I started trying to find ways to make the whole thing work. I remember it all very clearly. It’s all been coming back in waves over the past 36 hours.
The last cordial conversation I had with Randy, I told him not to do anything stupid, that I was on the verge of a solution. The next thing I heard, he’d dumped Tolstoy at the dog run in Golden Gate Park with a note on his neck that read, “My name is Tolstoy, I’m a good dog, and I need a home.”
That was on a Monday. My first day off that week was a Wednesday, and I gambled that Tolstoy would be in the pound in San Francisco. I drove straight to the pound on Wednesday, walked into the pound, and there was Tolstoy: Day three on death row, hours away from becoming one of the 500,000 unwanted pets who are put to sleep every year in California alone.
I took him back to Tahoe the next day. The first thing he did, after peeing on our kitchen table and freaking out my roommate, Welly, who was convinced we’d be evicted for having a dog, was leap over the fence in the back yard and run. Tolstoy wasn’t used to rules like, “don’t pee on the kitchen table,” or “don’t hump my girlfriend’s leg.” He wanted nothing to do with me and my totalitarian regime, so he split. It may have been the first time he took off on me, but it most certainly would not be the last.
I hopped on my bike and went looking for him, to no avail. The next morning I called the local pound to see if they had any leads, and a woman had seen him get hit by a car the night before, and had taken him to her house. Day two with Tolstoy, and he’s off to the vet for a collapsed lung and an X-ray to make sure his hind left leg wasn’t damaged in the hit and run. The diagnosis was to not let him run full steam for three months, and give the lung time to re-inflate.
Three months in the middle of summer, no running full steam. He hated me. Absolutely hated me. I’d be donning my roller blades off to play hockey, and he’d be running back and forth in the house, from the window in my bedroom to the window in the living room. Without fail, upon my return I would find “dookies of vengeance” on the carpet.
I’d walk him and walk him until I was sure his bowels were empty, and he’d hang on to just enough to give me the old “eff you” if I went somewhere without him. Oh, he and I had fun, to be sure. I bought an all terrain skateboard and a dog harness, and would take Tol on controlled runs around our neighborhood, two or three blocks at a time. Give his lungs a workout, but not let him over-tax them.
It was on these little runs that I discovered that Tolstoy’s disobedience wasn’t out of stupidity, but sheer stubbornity. If he couldn’t see how it would immediately benefit him, he wanted nothing to do with it. Case in point: when using a leash and a harness to “surf” on a skateboard with a dog, poles, stop signs and other stationary objects can be downright dangerous. I’d see them coming, jump off of the board and brace myself. Tolstoy would continue full speed until the leash wrapped on the pole, and he’d get flung sideways.
Once, just once, I yelled “this side!” of an oncoming pole, and Tolstoy got it. Once. Every time after that, when a pole was coming I’d yell, he’d get on the same side as me, and we’d have smooth sailing. It was as brilliant as it was revealing: he was very smart, he just didn’t want to listen.
Tolstoy didn’t buy in to our relationship 100% until that first winter we had together. Ask any die hard powder hound and they’ll tell you, the winter of ’94 – ’95 was epic. Kirkwood was open by November 5th, with an incredible base. I remember it very clearly, because it started snowing as we were moving from one side of South Tahoe to another.
Welly, Crotzer and I had found a house off of Pioneer Trail, in a great neighborhood with lots of National Forest nearby. The yard was huge, with a fence Toli would never be able to jump, and we were all stoked.
This was about the time they were filming Showgirls in our casino. Yes, that Showgirls. We all signed up to be extras, and took a week off of work to do it. Early November was slow, and we were looking forward to being on the big screen. The first day of shooting we spent 13 hours in a holding pen before going in for 20 minutes of shooting. When we got home that night I discovered that Tolstoy’s limit for holding it was 13 hours.
The next day I was trying to leave him with access to the yard and garage while we went back for Showgirls and Tolstoy saw his chance: he bolted into the street and took off into the distance. There was a good foot and a half of snow on the ground, and my truck was the only one with chains on it, so I sent Welly and Crotzer off without me to go sit in the holding pen while I searched for Tolstoy. I spent 45 minutes combing the neighborhood before giving up and going back to shovel the driveway.
I was worried mainly because we’d just moved in, and I hadn’t had a chance to give Tol a tour yet. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his way home, and in that snowstorm I didn’t know what would happen. Over an hour after he’d split to the North he came back from the South, bounding through the snow. He was grinning ear to ear, tongue flapping and eyes wide open, plunging through snow as tall as he was.
He was so excited, and he’d come home to share it with me. He jumped all around, and leaned against my leg panting, while he “let” me pet him. It was at that moment that he’d decided that life with me was going to be alright, and after that we started getting along a lot better. Our walks in the woods started happening off leash, and he started staying closer, and not running off for hours at a time.
Still, life with Tol was a never-ending process of training. And love. He would give me tongue baths for as long as my skin could take it. I tried to time how long he would do it on numerous occasions, and gave up after seven minutes. Once Tolstoy had bought into our relationship, it was 100%.
Thirteen years, that dog and I spent together. The longest continuous relationship I’ve had outside of blood relatives. Tolstoy slept in my bed for over ten years: a record that my wife, Michele, still has a few years to go to beat.
He and I both went through incredible transformations in his lifetime. In 1994, when I first got Tol, I was 25 years old, with one vicious partying lifestyle. My patience with life was starting to wear thin, and I was perfecting my alcoholic lifestyle. Tolstoy wanted nothing to do with anyone, and sought to simply run an play on the beach.
When I got sober, and spent months dealing with all of the issues I’d been trying to bury all of those years, it was my daily walks on Chrissy Field with Tolstoy that helped get me through. At a time when I was most alone in the world, and learning to be completely cool with that, Tolstoy was the one constant.
It was on a walk with Tolstoy that the idea to found the San Francisco Disc Golf Club came to me – a decision that would benefit the both of us, as we spent the next 10 years playing lots of disc golf. Once Tolstoy discovered that gophers were good eating, he started spending hours digging for them whenever we were in the park together.
He developed a system for hunting gophers that was quite impressive: when a gopher showed itself he’d pounce beyond the mouth of the hole, collapsing the tunnel behind the gopher. We’d gleefully yell, “Get the mouse!” as the hunt began, and sometimes recoil in shock when it was successful.
The official count stands at 25 confirmed kills, and Tolstoy ate all but one of them. Judging, however, by the stink that came out of his butt some nights, I’d say that kill count is extremely conservative.
Tolstoy loved to swim, an Akita trait most people don’t know about. He liked swimming because it gave him the chance to hunt ducks, and he would swim after ducks until he was on the verge of drowning. Aquatic Park, in Berkeley, has a fun disc golf course that runs along a wildlife preserve – mostly ducks and waterfowl. Tolstoy was in heaven, and would spend 40 minutes at a time chasing after ducks. I would run up and down the shore, desperately trying to get him to come back to land.
Once, after being in the water for over an hour and twenty minutes in a ninety minute span, Tolstoy finally came back to shore with just his eyes, ears and nose above the water. After that, I started using the doggie life vest a friend of Miriam’s gave me. Many disc golfers first got to know “that crazy dog with water wings” before they ever met me.
By the time Tolstoy and I were taking walks on Chrissy Field, I was used to his swimming antics, and would simply sit on the beach and wait for him. Often times all I could see would be the yellow of his life jacket, as he swam out into the shipping lane, chasing some duck that was having a grand old time leading him on.
Once, a fishing boat stopped to pick him up – that’s how far he went out. I used to cringe, and fret, and worry – I didn’t want to watch my dog drown, after all. But he taught me how to let go, and trust him, and give in to the belief that if he did die chasing ducks in the San Francisco Bay, at least he would die utterly, completely happy.
Michele and I met in 2001, and by then Tolstoy and I had been hanging out together for seven years. He was a good dog…well, that’s misleading. He was always a good dog, but after seven years he had also become a relatively obedient dog. She and he hit it off right away, and when a stint of unemployment left her with free days for eight months, she and Tol got to forge a very special bond.
On our wedding night we drove home from Oakland, picked Tolstoy up, and took him to our hotel to spend the night with us before we set off on our honeymoon. We were a very tight-knit pack.
From the very beginning of our relationship, Michele and I talked about what we would do when Tolstoy got old, when his time came. We hoped it would be obvious, what course of action to take. We hoped it could be quick, and that we wouldn’t be tempted to draw it out selfishly.
And slowly, surely, Tol started to get old. He started having trouble getting in and out of my truck, and then our car. He slept more between walks, and spent less time running hard at the beach. He charged up to other dogs in the park with less frequency, and eventually stopped butt-whipping other dogs entirely. Somewhere around 2003, he started going deaf.
Through it all, he was a wonderful companion. He would take a protective stance whenever any stranger came to the house, to his very last day. He would spin and “woo-woo!” any time we came home from a trip and picked him up from camp. Until last Sunday.
Returning from a work trip Sunday, we swung by Joel & Amanda’s to pick up Tolstoy on our way home. We had known Tolstoy wasn’t feeling well when we dropped him off, but we’d been having issues with his food for months anyway. When Joel threw open the door, there was Tolstoy laying on the floor of the living room. He looked right at us, and…just laid there. He hadn’t eaten in days, and was literally starving to death.
He couldn’t walk on his own, and needed help down the two steps at Joel and Amanda’s, let alone the 29 back at our house. A trip the vet the next day revealed the undeniable truth: Tolstoy had liver cancer, and the tumor was as wide as he was. Not only that, but he had severe arthritis of the spine, and it was a miracle that he’d been walking without visible signs of pain for the past few months.
Not wanting his last day to be spent at the vet, I asked for a regimen of drugs that would buy us a couple of days, and took my dog home one last time.
Dogs can smell death, and Tolstoy was no different. When I came back to get him from the vet after four hours of sitting there, he had thought that was it. He was ecstatic to go home, and tried to jump out of the car when I parked in our drive. The pain killers and steroids worked wonders, and for one last day, we had out Tol. But he wasn’t eating, and he didn’t have any fight left in him.
We called a vet who made house calls, and scheduled an appointment to put Tolstoy to sleep the next day at 4:30pm.
He woke me up at 4am to go to the bathroom, and I happily carried him downstairs so he could pee and poop.
I tried to tell him how much I loved him. I tried to tell him what a good dog he was. I tried to tell him how thankful I was for the 13 years we spent together. I don’t know if he could hear me. I hope he could feel me. I cried a lot that day. I lay on the ground with him, stroking his fur and weeping. I hope I didn’t make him feel guilty for being sick, that’s the kind of companion he was.
The next morning Ryder, Michele and I joined Tolstoy downstairs to watch him pee on the tree out front, and he surprised us all when he insisted on setting off on a morning walk. It was a far cry from just nine days before, when we would hike up to the top of Kite Hill every morning on our family walk, but it was a family walk all the same. We got to the top of the hill at 19th and Yukon, and Tol wanted to keep going up.
I knew his muscle mass wasn’t there after six days of starvation, and convinced him to settle for going around the block. Between meeting and appointments all day I would run home to carry him downstairs, and spend just a few last minutes with him. I cried my eyes out between appointments, and wept at the thought of life without Tolstoy.
But when I set my eyes upon him, I knew he was done. 4:30pm started seeming both extremely close and too far off.
The plumber came to fix our toilet while I was at one meeting, and Tolstoy immediately got up to go make sure Michele and Ryder were safe. Ever the protector, ever the faithful member of the pack.
Moments ticked by that day with a very odd sense of import. Every second took me one moment closer to the loss of one of the most faithful companions I’ve had in this lifetime. I still know that Tolstoy was done, and there was nothing I could do, and easing his suffering was the right thing to do. That doesn’t make it any easier.
I massaged Tolstoy’s jaw and head, and whispered in his ear as the vet slowly killed him, “Good dog. You are a good dog.” And then, struck by inspiration, “Get the mouse!
“You are a good dog!” I tried to assure him, as his breathing picked up pace, he opened his left eye, and took in one final, shallow breath.
Two strangers carried away my dog, and in a week or so they’ll mail me his ashes. He’ll arrive by registered mail. Surreal.
There are so many great moments I shared with Tolstoy, and they all have been coming up to the surface in the past few days:
• The one duck he actually caught, and Tolstoy’s look of utter surprise as he brought it back to shore
• At the beach, getting ready to go home after hours of laying out in the sun. I pull out his leash to keep him under control when we pass the horse stables, and he starts jumping up and down like, “Ooh! Ooh! The leash! The leash! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” As if there were anywhere better than the beach we were on.
• At Michele’s mom’s house, in the kitchen: Michele’s mom is reaching for doggie snacks, and her two Goldens are a frenzy of activity. In the eye of this storm is Tolstoy, sitting perfectly frozen, willing her to feed him first.
• Waking up to Tolstoy licking my face in the morning.
• Taking long walks in the park or at the beach six or seven days a week, and watching the boundless enthusiasm of a dog having fun.
• Me: “Are you a wookie?” Tol: “Woooo-woooo, Rrraawwww!”
• On a walk with Michele: Tolstoy gets distracted by some potential scrap of food on the sidewalk, and walks headlong into a bus stop. He quickly puts on an “I meant to do that” look.
• His complete cunning: Tolstoy knew the disc golf course in Golden Gate Park so well, he knew exactly when to bail out on me and cross JFK to forage for cat food in the bushes along Speedway Meadow. If I would leash him up on #6, the next time he’d bail out on #5, and so on. Somehow he always managed to not get hit by a car, which was my gravest concern. But boy did he love him some cat food.
• “Hello? Do you have a dog named Tolstoy? We’re down by (insert park location here) and he just came trotting up to us?” Tolstoy came to understand that if he got lost, he just needed to find someone who was nice, and somehow I’d show up. He relied on it. On the unofficial opening day of the disc golf course, he pulled this stunt. After 13 years, he had me trained to not pop blood vessels and let it be. Or leash him.
• Coming home to a wagging tail and a smiling face, no matter what kind of day I had.
I am going to miss that guy. He was the perfect dog for me: disobedient, fiercely loyal, stubborn, and endlessly loving. I hope I reflected all of those qualities right back at him. Go on buddy, get the mouse! I hope you have an endless supply, and an eternity to hunt them.
In middle school, birthday parties were a measurement of social worth. My family was poor growing up, and we moved around a lot: a vicious double-whammy. By 6th grade I’d attended 5 schools in 3 towns in two states. Other kids had huge, memorable affairs that became playground lore. It had been years since I had friends, let alone enough to make for a memorable birthday party.
But 6th grade was the year it all changed: when my birthday rolled around, I had five good friends invited to my party: Andy, Alphons, Kevin, Brad, and Dan.
Everyone arrived at my house early, with lots of daylight before dinner, so we set out to explore.
My house was next to a giant, dirt field/abandoned construction site bordering on a creek. They had started working on a shopping center years ago and never gotten further than prepping for drainage. We came across a large concrete drainage pipe – four feet in diameter– protruding from the side of the hillside above the creek.
“Where does it go?” my friends asked.
“I think it starts in the middle of the field,” I said – which was about 150-yards away. We managed to locate the other end of the pipe and decided that what we needed, was to crawl through that pipe. We went back to my house for light sources – we weren’t stupid, after all – where we found 8 spare birthday candles and a pack of matches.
We walked back out to the creek-side end of the pipe, and began making our way in. We could all pretty easily bend over and shuffle along – except for Brad and Dan, who were taller. Our voices echoed through the pipe, the eagerness of those in the lead drowning out the doubts from the back of the pack as we shuffled away from the light, into the deepening darkness.
We couldn’t see any light up ahead, but figured it was simply because it was just too far to the other end for the light to travel (I know, 6th grade physicists). We marched in, some jovial others hesitant. Brad was normally our dungeon master, and to ease his tension he asked for a roll call of characters. I lit a match and declared, “I am Lord Callahan, behold my +5 vorpal weapon!”
We laughed, and kept pushing in, hoping not to meet any orcs or trolls.
Now, at the creek end, where we entered the pipe, there was a little bit of dried mud, evidence that water had at one point flowed through the pipe, and brought sediment with it. The further in we got, the more dried mud there was. 15 yards in, the dust was 12 inches across and an inch deep. Then 18 inches across and four inches deep. Finally, 75 yards in, it was a good two feet across, more than four inches deep, and not so dry any more.
“Hold up!” Andy called from the front of the line. “It’s getting muddy.”
“How muddy?” we all asked.
“Not too bad, but it’s wet,” Andy said.
Brad, at the back of the pack, asked if we should turn around and go back. We were arranged by desire to actually march through the pipe. Andy and Alphons, at the front of the pack, were the most gung-ho. Brad and Dan, at the back, had needed convincing. Me and Kevin made up the middle.
So when Brad asked, “Should we turn around and head back?” it wasn’t just a question of safety, it was a referendum on our collective courage.
We all turned around and looked back at the opening of the pipe, some 75 yards behind us. The opening was small, distant. A beacon of defeat.
“No,” Andy said, “let’s just go a little further until we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
And from that point forward, with each and every step, the mud got wetter, deeper, and the tunnel got darker. It got to the point where we couldn’t really see very well. At all. We lit the candles, and quickly discovered that birthday candles burn quickly, drop lots of wax, and do little to provide illumination.
We took to stepping in each other’s footprints as the mud slowly became ankle, then calf deep.
“Gross!” Andy yelled back, “I just stepped on a dead rat in the mud!”
“Where!?!” we asked.
“Eww, me too!” said Alphons. And then each of us in turn got to hurriedly step on the “rat” and move on. Finally Andy announced, “I can see light! There’s a bend in the tunnel, we’re more than half way there.”
“Does it look like it keeps getting deeper?” we asked. At this point our 4-foot tunnel was over a foot deep in mud. Each step was its own little ordeal.
“No, it looks like this is pretty much it,” Andy sent back. So we pushed on, making the turn and working towards the light. The mud got to be knee deep at the end, and we practically crawled out into the waning sunlight, covered from head to toe.
When we got back to my house, my mother made us all hose off on the front lawn. Then everyone borrowed my clothes and we went across the street to the laundry mat where we had a blast doing our own laundry.
At the pizza parlor, all of us wearing freshly washed and dried clothes, my mom’s boyfriend gave me $20 in quarters – a fortune! – and told us to have a good time in the arcade.
That night, as we lay around the floor of my room, with the lights out, we told stories and tried to slyly learn as much we could from each other about puberty. And by the time we all got back to school on Monday, the tunnel got longer, the mud deeper, the rat larger and more alive. And my friends all agreed: Best. Birthday. Ever. And I learned it doesn’t take money to have a good time, just good friends. And maybe a little imagination.
I recently had an arthroscopic procedure on my dominant shoulder. I decided to write this guide while I was in the midst of my recovery, still wearing The Immobilizer 24/7, because I realized I was re-inventing the wheel on a daily basis. There were so many things that could have made my life easier, if only I’d learned them in advance.
If you are about to have shoulder surgery, this guide will help make your recovery post-op go more smoothly. I am not a doctor, and these tips won’t help your shoulder heal more quickly. But they might help you keep your sanity post-surgery (or at least get your pants on more quickly).
f you’ve had shoulder surgery and have tips to add please email me or leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to the main list.
#1 Don’t try and go it alone If you are lucky enough to have a supporting partner, prepare to write a few weeks’ worth of IOU checks around the house. You’re going to need a ride home from surgery, for starters. But that’s just where it begins.
The first two days you are going to be laid out, floating in and out of consciousness as your body tries to sleep its way through the first part of recovery.
After about a week you’ll be much more up and at ‘em, but you’ll still be pretty useless around the house (unless washing dishes one-handed is a long-standing specialty of yours). Accept the fact that you’ll be physically challenged, and start planning on ways to make it up after you’ve recovered.
If you live alone, call in some friends for the first 72 hours. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I couldn’t move the ice pump up and down the stairs in our house all by myself for the first few days, and had to swallow my pride and ask my wife to do it for me every time I wanted to relocate.
#2 Prepare and freeze food in advance One thing we were able to predict was how challenging it was going to be to feed our family with one of the people who helps make meals out of commission. So about six weeks pre-surgery, we started making double-batches of our favorite recipes and freezing half. By the time we got to my surgery date, we had a freezer full of carnitas, soup, meatballs, etc. All we had to do was pull it out and thaw it.
If you live alone, or you don’t like to cook for yourself in general, stock up on easy to prepare (read: frozen) meals. If I had shoulder surgery when I was 25, I would have had a freezer full of frozen pizza.
#3 If you live alone, consider switching to paper plates It’s not very eco-conscious, but if you live alone you might consider switching to paper plates for the first few days. Doing the dishes one-handed is a pain in ass. And even if you have a dishwasher, simply scrubbing food off of plates while battling the initial pain of post-op might be best avoided. Then again, maybe you’re the kind of person who likes such a thing – in which case, you can come to our house, we’ll feed you and you can do the dishes.
#4Buy slip-on slippers or flip flops & convert a pair of sneakers to slip-ons You aren’t going to be tying your shoes alone anytime soon. Unless you go barefoot all of the time, you are going to need to put things on your feet one-handed. Flip-flops are about as easy to put on as it comes.
I had my surgery in November, and it was too cold to wear flip-flops around the house. So we got a pair of slip-on slippers from Target for $20. Best $20 I’ve ever spent: I lived in those things for a few weeks. Don’t get the high-top, boot style slipper: they are too difficult to get on and off one-handed.
I also needed to leave the house ocassionally, so I converted a pair of lace-up sneakers into slip-ons. It should be self-explanatory, but for the sake of over-exposition: I lace a pair of shoes very loosely so I can get them on and off one-handed, and yet they still don’t fall off.
#5 Custom cut a shirt or two in advance My surgeon sent me home with my T-shirt pulled over the non-surgery arm and my head, and just hanging over the right (operated-upon) shoulder. The consensus was that I’d figure out how to really dress myself when I got home. My surgeon also said, “Don’t take The Immobilizer off, under any circumstances, until you see me again.” Which was going to be at least four days later.
Thankfully, my buddy Ben told me to cut a T-shirt from the armpit down to the waist on the operated side. I was able to get that on and over the whole Immobilizer/ice-pack apparatus, and (mostly) cover my waist & midsection. Protip: don’t cut it all the way through the waist, just to within four inches.
#6 Get a “wedge” pillow My buddy Ben had been through a similar surgery, and he loaned me his wedge pillow. It was an absolute necessity for the first few weeks post-op, in order to be able to sleep upright enough to keep the shoulder in a comfortable position. Now I just love the thing. I’m not giving it back.
#7 Get your hair cut as short as possible pre-surgery You won’t be taking a shower for at least two weeks, and will probably be relegated to fake-a-bath in the sink. I usually have short hair, but I had my hair cut down to a #1 buzz cut on the sides, so I could “wash” my hair one-handed in the sink. It was one less thing to worry about.
My wife says that if she were to have surgery like this, she would find a nearby salon where she could get her hair washed regularly.
#8 Wear your PJs to surgery I walked in to the surgery center wearing sweats and slippers. Hardly the fashion statement on the way in, but exactly what I wanted to be wearing on the way out. In fact, I had thermal underwear on under my sweats, because they are my PJs. The staff was surprised when I vehemently stated through my post-op drug haze, “Thermals! I. Want. My. Thermals on, please.” They obliged, and when I got home from surgery, all I had to do was slip off my slippers and fall into bed.
Wear whatever you plan on spending your first couple of days recovering in to your surgery. You may feel stupid on the way in, but you’ll be high as a kite on the way out.
#9 Don’t bother practicing one-handed stuff You’ll have weeks to practice your one-handed lifestyle after surgery. Don’t bother practicing beforehand. Except: figure out which belt you can fasten one-handed before surgery, or you’ll spend a lot of time figuring it out afterwards. It took me four days to discover which of my belts I could fasten with just my left hand. It also took me four days to discover item #9, which is embarassing.
#10 Put the belt in the pants before you put the pants on This one, sadly, took me 5 days to figure out. But once I had it, it was a massive time saver.
#11 Be prepared for everything to take twice as long Name something that you normally do with two hands that is easier to do one-handed, (probably) with your non-dominant hand? The answer is nothing, don’t let your smart ass friends try to tell you otherwise. Everything you do in the weeks following surgery is going to be harder and take longer than you are used to.
Embrace it, for it is the path you have chosen so that your shoulder may be healthy again. I learned to do so many things left-handed that I am still doing many of them that way. Eating soup, for example.
Protip: Do not wait until the last minute before rushing in to the bathroom if you have to pee. The pressure of fumbling with your zipper one-handed as your bladder is about to explode is more excitement than you need.
#12 Audio books Do you normally read yourself to sleep? Or maybe you like to read books during the day? I couldn’t hold a book in a comfortable way for weeks, especially lying down. Audiobooks to the rescue!
If you have a smartphone, the Audible app has a built-in snooze feature, which is awesome. I’d set it for 30 minutes every night to fall asleep to, and wind up backing up 23 minutes the next day.
#13 Typing sucks Typing one-handed was one of the most frustrating aspects of post-surgery life. I can normally type 70 words per minute, but one-handed that number came down to about 12. I’m not exaggerating.
If your job involves a lot of typing, get yourself something that can help speed up the one-handed process. Voice recognition software, maybe. For me, it was Swype on my phone. I wound up doing all of my emails from my phone, because I can Swype one-handed (Swype is only for Android devices).
My tablet was my second choice for typing, followed (distantly) by my keyboard.
#14 Stock up on ice You are going to be icing your shoulder 24/7 for the first week, re-filling your ice-pump machine every four to six hours (but especially right before you go to bed, and right when you wake up). We went through two to three bags of ice per day. Per day. Hopefully you have a large freezer, and can easily store seven or eight bags of ice. If you’re like us and have a tiny freezer, you’ll need to go to the store every day to buy ice.
And by “we” I mean my loving wife.
Find a local store that has lots of it before your surgery, so you know where to send your partner or friends when you need it.
#15 Take as much time off as possible This one seems pretty obvious, but it’s worth saying: you don’t want to be at work while you’re fighting pain in your shoulder. If you can, take at least a week off of work. I am lucky, and was able to take two full weeks off before I started doing any work. Your body will tire out easily, and your shoulder needs to heal.
#16 Take the laxatives Oh yeah, this should have been higher. Much higher. Extremely effective painkillers cause constipation. No matter how your system has reacted to pain killers in the past, take the first dose of laxatives with the first dose of painkillers after your surgery. Please trust me on this one.
#17 Narrow down your clothing options Those favorite button-fly jeans of yours? Yeah, you’re not going to be wearing them for at least a month. Set them aside, and make sure your possible-to-fasten-one-handed pants are all front and center. Sweats or shorts are a great call, but if you need to leave the house to go to work or pick up ice, you’ll need some pants. Make sure they are zippered.
Skin-tight T-shirts? Nah. Won’t be wearing those for at least six weeks.
Pick a few things that you know you’ll be able to do one-handed, stick to them. I lived in a blue flannel, button-up shirt. If you normally like to wear a hoodie around the house, buy a zippered one. Even once you can start taking The Immobilizer off, you won’t want to be shoving your arm through a pull-over hoodie.
#18 Don’t try to catch things One of the most challenging aspects of life post-surgery: the instinct to try and catch things with your recovering arm. I was trying to help out in the kitchen, and dropped a jar. As it fell, I instinctively tried to catch it with my right hand. Even though my right arm was still in The Immobilizer, I managed to jerk my arm a couple of inches, causing extreme pain in my recovering shoulder.
It will happen to you. But maybe if you know about it in advance, you can try to prepare yourself to not try and catch things. It took two or three episodes of extreme pain to teach me to let things hit the floor. A habit I have not yet decided to break.
#19 Put the operated arm in the sleeve first You’ll figure this one out on your own pretty quickly, but my physical therapist wants to save you the pain of trial and error. When getting dressed in the months post-op, always slide the operated arm in the sleeve first.
#20 Pre-hab your shoulder & get to know your PT Most surgeons are committed to this concept these days, and will send you for physical therapy before your surgery so you can begin to strengthen your shoulder before the surgery. The better shape your shoulder is in before the surgery, the quicker your recovery will be.
This is also important because it gives you an opportunity to build a trusting relationship with your PT before the operation. Once you’ve had the operation, the slightest movement in your arm or shoulder can cause immense pain. So can tightening your shoulder while your PT is gently moving it. You need to be able to trust them, and instant trust is hard to come by.
I saved Tolstoy when I was 25 years old. He was on day two of death row at the pound. A 65-pound Akita-Husky mix, I always described Tolstoy as a creamsicle: orange on top, white underbelly –with one eye blue and the other brown.
He was a stubborn, aggressive, playful, single-minded dog who wanted everything his way and wouldn’t listen to what anyone told him to do unless he could see a way that it would immediately benefit him.
In short, the perfect dog for the 25-year old me, a reflection of my own self.
I worked hard to train him, every day working and playing with him. But there was always a wild side of him that wouldn’t go away: a wild side I loved & hated.
Tolstoy was a hunter, and he would spend hours hunting a single gopher – as my then-girlfriend’s father found out when Tolstoy dug a trench 6-inches deep across his yard. Three ways. In the course of a single afternoon.
And when he did catch a gopher, he would choke it down as quickly as he could, knowing that I’d try to take it away from him. I could always tell if he caught a gopher at the park even if I didn’t see it, by the stomach ache he’d have in conjunction with the death gas emanating from his butt that night at home.
I had a lot of great days with that dog, but there was one particular day in Golden Gate Park that I will remember until the day I die: it was a banner day for Tol. I was on my in-line skates (it was 1996), and Tolstoy was been off-leash, having a great time running with me, and staying out of trouble. You have to understand what a miracle this is for a Husky, given the sheer number of things to hunt on a Sunday in the park.
We made multiple circuits from the Conservatory of Flowers out to Crossover Drive and back – and it was on our to-be final circuit that we stopped at the little pond right before the 19th Avenue overpass. You know the one, with that big waterfall, filled with skanky, foamy water. There are a few ducks floating on the pond, and the hunter in Tol is fascinated.
Up until this point, he’s also hated the water and swimming. Something about me throwing him in Lake Tahoe when I first got him. So I watch, bemused, as he gets down into the water as far as he possibly can go, just keening for a duck, reaching with one paw as he struggles to stay on land…
…and then he slips into the water. And the first look on his face is “What have I done?!?” but instinct kicks in and he starts to swim. And his focus immediately becomes ducks. Ducks. Ducks. Ducks. Ducks. Ducks. And I try calling him a few times, but it is obvious that he isn’t coming out for anything. Ducks. Ducks. Ducks.
And the ducks would swim just a little bit ahead of him, and were just like, “Quack.” And since this is Berkeley I must state that no duck was ever in any real danger in this story.
A crowd starts to gather, and then other dogs happening by see Tolstoy chasing the ducks in the water, and think, “Hey, that looks great!” and they jump in too. And I am incredibly relieved to see that it’s not only my dog who is so ill-behaved that he’d go barreling into this skanky little pond. Soon, there is a pack of three or four dogs, all chasing each other and the ducks around in this foamy, gross water. And a throng of people gather to watch the escapade, laughing, yelling, some rooting for the dogs, others rooting for the ducks…
The difference between Tolstoy and the other dogs becomes evident, however, as every other dog eventually heeds its human’s voice and gets out of the water. Tolstoy refuses to heed my calls. And I know the little mutt can hear me, because his ears twitch involuntarily when I yell his name.
After about 25 minutes of full sprint chasing the ducks, he starts tiring out. Less of his head is sticking out of the water; he’s swimming slower. Much slower. And pretty soon, it dawns on me: he’s going to drown unless I do something. So I head over to the Eastern edge of the pond, where there is a little dirt depression, and start stripping down. I take off my skates, I take off my socks, I remove my fanny-pack (hey, it was 1996!), t-shirt and hat and set them all down in a pile and wait for the moment to come.
At a certain point, Tolstoy’s legs cramp up, and he tries to crawl out of the water onto the rock in the middle of the pond. He gets out on the rock, and his back leg is spasming straight behind him…googada-googada… and he can’t hold it, so he just falls over sideways into the water.
And that was the moment when I hit the water – that nasty, skanky water – in a shallow dive, and took three strokes to cross the pond to where Tolstoy was floundering. I found I could stand in the chest-high water, so I grabbed Tolstoy, and threw him over one shoulder and started making my way back to the edge of the pond to the great amusement and applause of the gathered throng.
I drug the wet, dripping, smelly dog and myself – who was now also wet, dripping and smelly – out to the edge of the pond. I set him on the muddy bank, where he was almost too weak to shake off. Almost, but not quite: he had enough left in the tank to drench my t-shirt, socks and fanny pack.
Epilog: After that, he was a swimmer. Tolstoy chased ducks until he almost drowned two more times. Eventually, I realized he wasn’t the one who needed to change, and I got him a doggy life jacket. And, I learned to enjoy my time on the beach alone while Tolstoy let his wild side take him further out in the Bay.
I am a professional fundraising auctioneer. This means that I work with non-profit organizations to help plan and implement their fundraising auctions. Then the night of their event I get to get onstage and encourage people to spend-more-than-they-should-on-stuff-they-don’t-need-in-support-of-a-great-cause.
It is the best job in the world. I love my work, in no small part because each and every day I go to work I am using my powers for good – helping to make the world a better place.
Fundraising auctions are fun, but they are a challenge, too. Every event I do, there are four or five little things that go wrong. And once in a great while, there is a catastrophe that tests the limits of my experience.
A few years back I was doing the auction for a local organization that benefits the homeless. And this particular event, the auction was transcending. Things were selling for double what they’d sold in the past.
We’re right in the heart of the auction, and an auction lot takes off.
$2,000 – 22 – 24 – 26 – 28, now three! Three thousand, 32, a board member named Nick is in at 35-hundred, woman in the back is in at 38-hundred, back to Nick at four thousand? Yes, no, maybe so? Sold, three-thousand-eight-hundred and the place goes nuts.
I flip the page on my script, eager to get on to the next item when a volunteer comes running up to me: we need a doctor in the back of the room. I’ve had things like this happen before. Eight months before this at a different auction, a bidder almost choked to death on her dinner, and Dr Angel – no kidding – saved her life with the Heimlich. So I know that the most important thing is to get someone who is CPR certified to respond, quickly.
But when I look in the back of the room, I see the second place bidder from the last lot, Nick, flat on his back on the floor, and the event chair giving him chest compressions. And I realize we’re all headed into uncharted territory.
I tell everyone that we’re going to take a break from the stage while we wait for the EMTs, and I meet with the staff to figure out what to do next.
As the time slowly ticks by while we wait for the EMTs, it becomes evident that Nick has died. I’m thinking, but not feeling as we discuss what to do. I know that the crowd needs some closure, something to help make sense of the evening. And the Development Director tells me her program really needs the money we were going to raise.
We agree that doing the rest of the auction would be crass, so we decide to just do the fund-a-need: where people simply pledge money to the cause. Done right, a fund-a-need can bring a crowd together.
After the EMTs take Nick out, we get back on stage, and I tell the crowd that Nick was a big supporter of the cause (he was a board member), and he would have wanted us to make something positive happen. I tell the crowd that it is up to us to come together to save many lives where we couldn’t save one. And with an up swell of emotion, we go on to have the most successful fund-a-need they’ve ever had.
After the event, alone for the first time in my car about to call my wife, it finally hits me; the emotions finally arrive. Hard. I’ve killed a bidder. Instead of good, my powers did bad. It was one of those subjects so serious, everyone played it down. “Of course you didn’t kill him!” my friends would say.
But I felt like I did.
And it haunted me. I’d get going in an auction, start to ramp up the emotions, and suddenly get worried that I might be pushing someone too far. I’d flinch internally whenever a volunteer came running up mid-auction with a question.
It wasn’t until that same event, a year later, chatting with one of Nick’s friends who had been at his table the year before. “I want you to know,” he said, “That Nick died having the time of his life. His heart attack was massive, his death instantaneous. And if he wasn’t at this event, he would have been at home, eating dinner alone.
“Instead, he died surrounded by friends, having a great time.” He could tell I was touched, so he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You know what his last words were? His last words were: ‘Can you believe that lot just sold for $3,800?!?”
And in that moment, he released that yoke of guilt from my shoulders. In that moment, he restored my confidence in our powers. Because in that moment, he reminded me that we’re all here for the short term. And anything we can do to make each other’s lives more enjoyable, more meaningful, in any of these small little moments is using our powers for good.
Inspired by the film Boyhood, we’ve undertaken our own passage of time project. Working with Ryder, who is currently 9, we came up with a list of 10 questions about life we plan to ask him once a year and capture on video. So far we only have one year caught on video, but people have been curious about our list of questions.
We wanted questions that would capture what he was in to at that moment in time, and also questions that would capture his perspective. We may alter as time goes on, but for now the list is:
What is your favorite music?
What are your favorite books?
What movies do you like?
What is your favorite object?
What are you most looking forward to right now?
What do you and your friends do?
What do you wish you could change about the world?
What do you like most about yourself?
What is the one thing you want your future self to never forget?
If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
I had “What do you like least about yourself?” as a companion question in there to #8, but Ryder insisted on removing it and replacing it with the question about his favorite object. Since he is answering all of these questions, I didn’t object.
This is hardly an original idea, so feel free to borrow and adapt to your family. I would love to hear about it in the comments, or better yet, to see your videos in one, two, or even five years.
When I was nine years old my father and I set out on the most epic camping trip of all time. It was equal parts pilgrimage, catharsis, and adventure with two or three parts of either dogged determination or sheer stupidity. It was the 70s, it was harder to tell the difference between the two back then.
My father was leaving my mother, for good this time, and driving from northern California to Miami, Florida. My mother had fled Florida for California a year earlier, forcing my father to quit his job and follow her in an attempt to keep our family together. Now, he was returning home, and the timing was perfect, because along the way he was going to go camping in Georgia with the school where he used to teach (and I used to attend). I got to go along for the ride, as long as I promised to come back.
My dad had a 1970s VW pickup truck. Basically, a VW bus that had been chopped to turn it into a truck. VWs were the antonym of reliable back in the 70s, and this truck was as unreliable as they came. My father kept it running with willpower alone, and this is the vehicle we were going to drive across the United States. We had no chance.
The first time we broke down was in Arizona. Not even one state from our starting point. Although to be fair, California is so long that we had already traveled a few east coast states.
Somewhere in Texas we picked up a hitchhiker to keep my dad company and help with the driving. It was the 70s, things were different back then.
We only made it halfway through Texas before the truck broke down again, and this time my dad opted to rent a car and tow his truck to his parent’s house in Miami, our final destination. The camping trip started the next day, and we were going to be there.
The only catch was, we had no car, he had little cash, and my grandparents weren’t about to spring for much of either. So we took a train from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida. And then we hitchhiked to Cumberland Island – a mere 50 miles. But what I remember is standing on an onramp with my dad, backpacks at our feet and thumbs out for every car that passed.
I only remember one car picking us up: it was from two off-duty police officers, who thought it was far out that my dad and I had some so far to make this camping trip and they took us across state lines to make sure we made it. Along the way they shared a few laughs with my dad, and a couple of joints as well. It was the 70s…
By the time we got to Georgia I had a minor case of pinkeye and we were too late to catch the last ferry to the island. We slept under the sign for the ferry that night, camping in the wide open. It was here, in the dark Georgia night, under the sign for the ferry that we met Yogi, a travelling German doctor who just happened to have some ointment to cure pinkeye in his huge backpack. He told me that my eyes would be sensitive, so he also gave me his conductor’s cap to keep the sun out of them.
When we got to the island the next day, it was epic! Everyone was fired up to see us. They had huge tents set up, and I was excited to see friends I had been torn away from more than a year ago. No sooner had we set foot in the campground then it started raining buckets, confining us to the tents. We had a ball, playing like I hadn’t played with other kids in months.
That night, while we slept, raccoons snuck into our food tent and ate everything. I mean everything. Over 30 kids and 6 adults with not a bite to eat and no place to buy it on the island.
I was starving, and riding the ferry back to the mainland I managed to guilt a couple into giving me and my friends all of their camping leftovers – with nothing but my puppy dog eyes.
The trip home was far more anticlimactic. The Loblolly crew gave us a ride to Jacksonville, and from there we took the train to Miami.
It was the last big adventure I had with my dad before he got married and started family 2.0. It marked a major turning point in our entire family’s lives, and the last time I’d get to spend so much time with him, just he and I. It may sound hellish, but it was heaven to me.
Funny thing, I always thought that this was what life was like in the 70s: hitchhiking, sleeping in parking lots, living on the road. I thought that it was simply a different time. But the older I get the more I realize that it wasn’t just that 70s that were different, my family was pretty freaky, too.
When I was 11 years old I lived in a trailer on a dirt road 7 miles from the nearest town on what today would be called a horticultural startup, but back then we just thought of it as a pot farm. We had no running water, no electricity and no phone lines – but there were lots of critters, big and small. Living out in the wild like that meant that at an early age you had to learn what animals you might encounter, and what to do if you did.
One particularly hot summer afternoon, I was watching all of the other kids playing on the swingset in the shade between the trees of the hillside our tiny little trailer. There was about 25 feet of space between the trailer and the bushes, and it was the only shade to be found within a half mile of our house. I think there were at least 6 kids out back: my deaf younger brother, who was 4 at the time, Sequoia who was 5 and his younger sister, Odin who was around 5, me and my buddy Jerry.
I came around the back of the trailer, and heard what sounded like some kind of wind-up toy going endlessly in the bushes. I thought it was typical that one of the little kids had thrown their toy into the bushes, and I kept pulling the branches back, looking around…pulling them back, looking around…and the noise kept getting louder. By now I was curious as to what kind of toy this could be, as it simply was Not Winding down.
And then I came face to face with the coiled rattlesnake, about 5-feet deep in the bushes, and it was pissed off. Now, this wasn’t the first rattlesnake I’d encountered in my then-11 year old lifetime, it wasn’t even the 2nd.
The first time I met a rattlesnake I was walking up the path to my friend’s house with my new book of paper airplanes. I was so excited about the book that I wasn’t watching where I was walking, and I felt a soft-ish squish under my feet that wasn’t quite right. I immediately leapt about 4 feet, and the rattlesnake did the same, and started to coil. It was small, only about 3 feet long…
It was miles out of my way to go back down the path to the main road and then around to my friend’s house, so I started picking up rocks and throwing them at the rattler until it gave up and simply slithered away.
The 2nd time I met a rattlesnake I had my 4-year old brother on the back of my Schwinn Stingray – riding on the banana seat, and we came around the corner of the dirt road and there was a snake stretched out over the entire length of the road – easily 6 or 7 feet long. It was massive, at least 4-inches thick. I slammed on the brakes, got my feet down, and started backing up as quickly as I could. My brother couldn’t have heard anything I had to say, and leaned out around me to see what the deal was. And then started hitting me in the back and saying, “Snake! Snake! Snake!”
By the time we found an adult, the snake had moved on.
So back to the coiled snake in our backyard: I immediately got all of the kids to move away from the play structure, and then me and Jerry got my mom’s boyfriend’s blow-gun and blow-darts. I’d spent plenty of time practicing with the blowgun – on my The Fonz poster mounted on plywood – and I could sink a dart into the Fonz’s thumb from 15 feet. So Jerry and I took turns shooting darts at the rattler.
Eventually, it gave up rattling, and started to slither away up the hillside, and that’s when we knew that we’d hit it because we saw 2 darts slithering up the hillside. All of the kids cheered, and we started to argue about who had actually hit the snake. And that’s when I noticed that my 4-year old younger brother was not among the kids with us, and as I looked into the trailer I spotted him, and the rifle. Aimed right at me.
As soon as he had realized there was a snake in the bushes, and saw me and Jerry tried to nail it with the blowgun he had gone inside the trailer and worked at the closet door until he had pried it open and gotten at the 30 odd six rifle inside. That last big rattlesnake still on his mind, he was going to settle this and solve the problem for all of us.
I broke into a sprint around the trailer as fast as I could, bounded up the stairs, and opened the door to my 4-year old brother, diligently trying to get the rifle under control, and aiming it right at my chest. I signed for him to stay calm, and not do anything. As I skirted around the barrel of the gun and slowly raised the barrel so it was aiming at the sky, it dawned on me which animal, of all the ones I lived with in the middle of nowhere, were actually the most dangerous.