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38 COOL THINGS ABOUT AMERICA: A BLOG OF HOPE

Heads up, Democrats, Republicans, independents, and the 47% of you who didn’t vote at all — I’m trying to say something nice here.

Whether you were celebrating or numb with shock after the Presidential election, the results are what they are. As a country, we’re watching what happens, hoping that the divisive rhetoric dies down, and quite frankly worrying about people’s rights, their health, and their families.

While the election and its aftermath have kept the news media and social sites buzzing, I’ve been working on a major freelance project for a hospitality client. I’m writing more than 100 search-friendly pages of content, each one focused on a specific city or unique point of interest.

I’m only part of the way through, but I’m learning a ton about all of these different places across the country. And in the process, I feel like I’m connecting with more of America.

My four big takeaways so far:

 

  • Pleasantly surprised at our commitment to art and culture throughout the nation.
  • Seeing massive efforts to protect the environment and improve sustainability.
  • We’re more connected every day, thanks to technology and social media.
  • Our dedication to preserving U.S. history is incredible. (As an example, see #12 below.)

 

Here’s 38 things I’ve learned. You might find some of them boring and some of them cool, that’s OK. But they should all give you a little more insight into what’s out there in America:

  1. American University in Washington, D.C. is on track to be carbon neutral by 2020.
  2. As you travel along the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area that spans the Washington/Oregon border, the ecosystem changes from dry grasslands to a temperate rainforest in just 80 miles.
  3. At the San Jose International Airport, there’s a mural called “Hands” on the outside of the building that can be seen from more than a mile away.
  4. Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, has the largest baseball stadium in the spring training Cactus League — and is home to two teams: the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. (And you can get Dodger Dogs there, too.)
  5. Chattanooga, Tennessee claims to have the fastest internet connection in the Western hemisphere, with speeds up to 1 gigabit per second.
  6. Chicago O’Hare International Airport is incredibly committed to the environment — with the first major on-airport apiary, the first aeroponic garden, and more than 300,000 square feet of vegetated green roof on 12 different facilities. They even use a grazing herd to clear dense vegetation on the property.
  7. Columbus, Ohio claims that its Short North Arts District is “the SoHo of the Midwest.”
  8. Durgin Park, the oldest existing restaurant at Faneuil Hall in Boston, was opened in 1827. (Although there was also a restaurant there as far back as 1742.)
  9. Elvis Presley was 22 years old when he bought his famed Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee for $102,500 in 1957.
  10. Gatlinburg is home to the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, where you can see the jalopy from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the Batmobile, and Herbie the Love Bug — as well as an 8-mile loop of Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, which is the largest gathering of independent artists in the country.
  11. Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Iron Maiden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all recorded concert albums or videos at the Long Beach Convention Center.
  12. Mount Vernon is open to the public every day of the year, and it’s owned and maintained not by the government — but by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. (Also, there’s a whiskey distillery on site.)
  13. Osceola County Stadium in Florida is home to the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring. #BOO
  14. Phoenix’s Gila River Arena has a $5 million “dancing fountain” water display, similar to the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
  15. Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the largest “green” building in the world, with both Gold LEED certification and Platinum certification for an existing building.
  16. Raleigh-Durham International Airport has an annual Bluegrass Music Series every fall, with musicians performing live in the baggage claim area.
  17. Repticon — a convention featuring thousands of reptiles and exotic animals from around the world — is held annually at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, Texas. (Bonus: Pasadena is also home to the Armand Bayou Nature Center, the largest urban wilderness preserve in the country.)
  18. Rockefeller Center is actually 19 buildings.
  19. Sacramento is now known as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”
  20. San Francisco’s Moscone Center has one of the largest city-owned solar electricity installations in the country on its roof.
  21. The Dallas Convention Center has the world’s largest heliport/vertiport on top of the building.
  22. The first South by Southwest festival had about 750 attendees. Today, tens of thousands of people show up to Austin every year.
  23. The Grand Ole Opry has been on the radio since 1925.
  24. The home of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs racetrack has the world’s largest 4K video screen.
  25. The International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, Oregon, is the oldest of its kind in the U.S.
  26. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens have the largest jaguar exhibit in North America.
  27. The Knoxville Convention Center’s world-class art collection is valued at more than $1 million.
  28. The Leo Rich Theater in Tucson, Arizona presents a week-long Winter Chamber Music Festival every year.
  29. The Merriweather Post Pavilion — a historic outdoor concert venue located in a 40-acre forest in Columbia, Maryland — was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry.
  30. The Ontario Mills (CA) shopping mall gets ten times more visitors annually than Disneyland, and also has the largest concentration of movie screens west of the Mississippi.
  31. The Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon is considered by experts as one of the finest public Japanese gardens located outside Japan.
  32. The University of Cincinnati is one of the “World’s Most Beautiful College Campuses” according to several magazines.
  33. The Virginia Beach Convention Center was the first in America to earn LEED Gold certification as an existing building.
  34. Times Square isn’t really a square.
  35. Tropicana Field, home to MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays, has a 10,000-gallon tank containing more than 30 cownose rays just behind the center-field wall.
  36. Tucson International Airport displays more than 100 original artworks by local artisans.
  37. Tulane University has a highly regarded School of Tropical Medicine, the only one of its kind.
  38. Tulsa International Airport has an Air and Space Museum with a full-domed planetarium, and a Cultural Advisory Group comprised of local citizens chooses artwork to showcase throughout the terminal.

I haven’t been to most of these places, and I’ll wager that most of you haven’t either.

But I can’t help feeling like this project is bringing me closer to the greatness (and untapped potential) that lives in America.

It makes me feel like things will be OK.

And right about now, a lot of us need that confirmation.

If you liked this blog, let me know in the comments below and I’ll post even more of these facts as I work through my project. Thanks for reading!

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#FathersDay Blog 2015: The Luckiest Man in the World

I desperately wanted to be a dad.

Luckily, my wife desperately wanted to be a mom.

And thanks to the love and support of our families (and science), we both got our wishes.

*****

Growing up, my dad worked multiple jobs. He taught during the day, night school, some weekends, and then spent most of the summer as a day camp counselor (and then director).

Work ethic was something I saw early. Dad did his best to provide for our family, and I don’t remember ever truly wanting for anything.

When it came to college, he just said “Pick a place.” And when I picked the expensive private liberal arts college, he didn’t blink.

And through the years, if I’ve needed anything, Dad was there.

That kind of support is what I plan to provide for my girls.

*****
The old joke is that “when you marry someone, you marry their family too.” For me, that’s been a great thing.
 

I got another dad with an admirable work ethic, one who also does whatever it takes to support his family.
 

He busts his butt at work every day, and whenever I stop by I see that he truly has the respect of all his employees — something I strive for in my own career.

And through all the ups and downs and adversity he’s faced, he’s always there for his kids.


 

*****

And of course, there’s my journey to becoming a father. We had tremendous support from both of our families, especially when we needed help from Modern Science.

I was the one who took the phone call when they told us Shannon was pregnant. Probably the greatest call of my life. Of course, until I got to call Shannon and tell her.

I remember standing in the hallway of my office. Sun streaming through the windows, a mid-day shot of adrenaline and happiness to the heart.


 

*****

It was a rough pregnancy, but Shannon was the ultimate trooper. Gave up caffeine and chocolate, focused completely on giving our girls a great start.

Still, there were multiple hospital visits. An laparoscopic gallbladder surgery at 20 weeks. And then they came early.

*****
The C-section was lightning fast. Ali at 11:34. Norah about 10 seconds later. In all the commotion, I tried to get as many photos as possible. I was only able to get one set of footprints on my scrub top.

 

And then the scariest three weeks of our lives.
Here’s how it went down:

 

 

 

 

But it’s all good now, and that’s what matters.

 

*****

I’ve narrowed it down to Six Commandments of Dadding:

6. Provide. Get out there and EARN, son. “Baby needs a new pair of shoes” is a real thing.

 

5. Support. Don’t OVER-do it. (Trophies for all!) But be there when they fall. Encourage when they need help. Compliment when they least expect it.

 

4. Be there. As much as possible. Put down the phone. (Something we all struggle with.) Engage with them, because every moment is precious.

3. Smile. I truly believe the positivity that Shannon and I pour into them is why our girls are awesome, smart, nice, helpful and happy. And smiles are free.

 

2. Be patient. (Something else I’m working on.) They’re kids, for Pete’s sake. Even if it’s at the end of a long day, that’s not their fault. Count to ten, take some deep breaths, and listen.

1. Show the love. Lots of hugs. Cuddles on the couch. When they want to be carried or ask for a piggyback ride, give it. They won’t ask forever. (And they’ll get too big or “grownup” to carry.) Besides, it’s a good mini-workout.

*****
Being a dad is the greatest job I’ve ever had or will have. It’s a responsibility that I wanted, was blessed with, and I cherish every day.

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. Enjoy your day — and every single moment!

Jealous of the #Cubs

Editor’s Note: This isn’t exactly in the spirit of Christmas, but what the hey.

How could I not be jealous? Sure, they haven’t won a World Series since 1908.

But as a #Phillies fan, watching his favorite team slowly dip their toe in the swampy waters of Rebuilding River, it’s pretty easy to look at what the #Cubs have done and find myself becoming a Wrigley Wannabe.

harrycaraynextyear copy

Here’s what they’ve done over the past couple years to build the should-be-contender they are today:

FRONT OFFICE

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer leave the Red Sox (in 2011) to head up the Cubs front office, bringing their combined baseball genius.

They begin their work by drafting smarter and focusing on minor league player development. These efforts turn into big-time prospects Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Kyle Hendricks and Jorge Soler — most of whom will be integral to the Cubs Renaissance — or as I’m calling it, the “Cubsaissance©®™.”

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MANAGER

Joe Maddon leaves Tampa Bay (in November 2014) to manage the Cubs.

Pretty much one of the best and most respected managers in the game heads to Chi-town, and why not? With a pretty tiny budget and not much of a fan base, the pride of Hazelton, Pa., managed six straight years of over .500 ball in the AL East — competing with big-spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox.

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WRIGLEY

The Friendly Confines are getting a new scoreboard with cool video functionality.

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THE BUILDING BLOCKS

So they’ve got 1B and SS covered with young talent in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. They have lefty pitcher Travis Wood (a 2013 All-Star) and righty Kyle Hendricks (who impressed in 13 starts last year). And Hector Rondon was a solid closer.

Then there’s the reclamation projects — fireballing Jacob Turner, reliever Pedro Strop, the big-time rebound that is Jake Arrieta, former Rangers high-level prospect Neil Ramirez, and Dan Straily (who won 10 games with Oakland in ’13). There’s even former Red Sock Felix Doubront, who throws hard and has won double-digit games twice. (And pitched in the postseason.)

And of course, the gems of the farm system. In addition to added-via-trade SS Addison Russell, there’s the great draft picks: OF Jorge Soler (power), IF Javier Baez (bat speed compared to Gary Sheffield), 3B Kris Bryant (POWER) and C/1B/OF Kyle Schwarber (moved up twice in his first year as a pro).

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2014 MOVES

Gonna bullet-point ’em for easy reading:

—Signed LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (1 yr, $4MM). He’s 33 and pitched nine years in Japan, but showed he can hang in MLB in 13 starts last year. A solid veteran option for the rotation. (More on the Cubs’ starting pitching below.)

—Traded two minor leaguers for C Miguel Montero. For the price of two not-top-prospects, they got a veteran leader behind the plate who’s solid on offense and defense. And a lefty-batting catcher, to boot.

—Signed RHP Jason Hammel (2 yrs, $18MM). Veteran righty innings-eater. Has signed with the Cubs twice as a free agent — the second time being after they traded him away last year to Oakland. So he wants to be there for sure. And his numbers were kinda awesome as a Cub in 2014. (8-5, 2.98 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 108 IP, 88H, 104K, only 23 BB.)

—Signed LHP Jon Lester (6 yrs, $155MM). Kinda surprising, but not really. The Red Sox didn’t make enough of an effort, Oakland doesn’t usually do the big signings (not very Moneyball), and I didn’t hear much of anything about the Yankees or other big spenders. OH, and ol’ Jon knows the front office guys pretty well from Boston. Which means he knows that there is winning in the future. (And $155 million is a nice incentive, too.) Here’s your #1 starter, Cubs fans.

—Signed RHP Jason Motte (1 yr, $4.5MM). And why not take a chance for that amount? This guy was a dominant reliever for the Cardinals, led the league in saves before Tommy John surgery, and has postseason experience. He’ll probably be a setup guy and serve as insurance for Rondon.

—Signed C David Ross (2 yrs, $5MM). Veteran catcher with a solid bat and hey wait, another Red Sox-connected guy who just happened to catch a whole lot of Jon Lester’s starts! Makes complete sense, and now they have a nice pair of experienced catchers who can hit, too.

================================================

OVERALL

So it started at the top. New leadership with experience in building a winning franchise. They started with the draft and the minors.

When the time was right, they went and got a smart, creative and fan-friendly manager who led his teams to winning seasons despite big obstacles.

And now, the great young talent is starting to present itself. Some is already at the major league level, some will be arriving in 2015 and 2016.

Then they added a bunch of veteran leaders, a clear #1 starter and a deep pool of rotation candidates.

Boom. Contender. And if they’re smart enough (which they are), a possible dynasty. The window for the Cubs is open.

Rejoice, Northsiders. Pretty soon, you’re likely to be “Loveable Losers” no more.

And I’m freakin’ jealous.

That's what I'm talking about.

When Are My Comic Book Movies Coming?!?

Holy Grown-Up Kids, Batman!

There are a TON of comic book movies coming in the next few years, and my inner geek — who am I kidding, my geek is OUTER — is freaking out (in a good way).

Compiled these from the good people at ComicBook.com (specific links at the bottom of this post):

2015

May 1: The Avengers: Age of Ultron
The “leaked” trailer was/is awesome. Need to go watch it 50 more times. Looks SO COOL.

July 17: Ant-Man
Blah blah blah nobody knows who this is. Marvel has cracked the code, kids. Quality actors with good storylines and cool effects will sell tickets. (See: Guardians of the Galaxy making $800 MILLION.)

Aug. 7: Fantastic Four
Reboot for the sake of reboot? Changes for the sake of changes? I want to think this will be cool, but I’m a bit skeptical. I’d like to be surprised though.

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2016

Feb 12: Deadpool
This is the super-character Ryan Reynolds was born to play. (NOT Green Lantern.) Just wondering if they’ll tone down this wise-cracking, 4th-wall-breaking, definitely Rated-R-and-above character. (Check out the test footage here.)

March 25: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Geek Cred Redacted: I still haven’t seen Man of Steel. But it seems like DC is shoving almost all the Justice League characters in this alleged sequel in a rush to get their own big franchise movie out. Feels like a panic move. That being said, I’m pretty jazzed to see this take on the Batman and Wonder Woman characters.

May 6: Captain America 3: Civil War
Just watched the second one again and was wowed again. It will be hard to match those first two, but adding in the Civil War storyline kicks things up a notch.

May 27: X-Men: Apocalypse
Geek Cred Redacted, II: Still haven’t seen Days of Future Past, even though I heard great things. But if DOFP was as good as people say, and they get Tom Hardy to be Apocalypse, I will get in line for tickets.

July 8: Doctor Strange
My pal Patrick lobbied HARD, every day on FB and Twitter, to get Marvel to consider Matthew Modine for the role. But sadly for him, rumors are strong that Benedict Cumberbatch will get it. I think he’ll crush it and this will be f’n cool. (And I love the messed-up names people give him.)

Aug. 5: Suicide Squad
I’ve been so Marvel-centric, I barely remember who these guys are. I know that they’re on Arrow, something else I’ve missed and need to catch up on. Could be cool with the whole anti-hero thing.

Nov. 11: Sinister Six
Geek Cred Redacted, III: Haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man 1 or 2. And I’m not sure how a movie with 6 bad guys — who aren’t doing the anti-hero thing — and allegedly no real hero will work.

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2017

March 3: The Wolverine sequel
Geek Cred Redacted, IV: Didn’t see the first one, and the reviews were meh, so I can’t say I’m excited about this one. Although I do think Jackman is perfect as the character.

May 5: Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Saw it. Loved it. Will own it. And there’s plenty of, ahem, space to explore with this team.

June 23: Wonder Woman
Bring on the strong women! (Said the father of two girls.) Will be cool to see the modern version of WW, wondering if she’ll have a “secret identity” or they just go with the whole Amazonian princess thing.

July 14: Fantastic Four 2
Must have some high hopes for the reboot if they’re confidently planning a sequel.

July 28: Thor: Ragnarok
The end of everything? Guess it won’t quite be that, since there are other movies below this on the schedule. Unlike many geeks, I like the Thor movies. Maybe not as much as the others, but I’m a fan. Wonder if they bring in the female Thor in this one (or after)?

November 3: Black Panther
This one has me more excited than most. I think it’s a really cool character and story, and Chadwick Boseman looks perfect for the role. Heck, he’s done Jackie Robinson and James Brown. Psyched to see what he does with King T’Challa.

Nov. 17: Justice League
If done well, this could be one of the greatest things ever. Please don’t mess this up, DC.

??: Venom, Rumored Female-Led Spider-Verse Movie
Venom? Maybe the Flash Thompson-wanna-be-a-good-guy version. Silk or Spider-Woman? Could be cool.

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2018

March 23: The Flash
Easily the greatest superhero who can fit his whole costume inside a ring. But I don’t understand why they wouldn’t use the Flash from the TV show, which is getting great reviews and ratings. Feels like they’re trying to NOT be Marvel (using the “Agents of SHIELD” TV show in conjunction with the movies).

May 4: The Avengers: Infinity War, Part One
Joss Whedon, do your worst. (Or best. You know what I mean.) An alien with one shiny glove and unlimited power? Is that Thanos or Michael Jackson? #toosoon?

July 6: Captain Marvel
It is about. Damn. Time. A cool and powerful female superhero. Every blonde actress (or lady with another hair color who’s willing to go blonde) in Hollywood should have their agent on the case. I can see this being a great origin story, I just hope they don’t muck it up with a superhero dude. Let her kick some ass on her own.

July 13: Untitled Fox/Marvel Movie
Man, who owns what characters anymore? Oh, a helpful link. So this will be Fantastic Four, X-Men or some kind of spinoff.

July 27: Aquaman
He’s got a bad rap, the orange-shirted water-dweller. If they do a storyline like this animated feature, I can see it being good.

November 2: Inhumans
They’ll never be successful with a movie about a team of cosmic heroes. Just look at Guardians of…oh, wait. Actually, these folks have some cool powers, plus potential crossovers/connections with Agents of SHIELD, Guardians and even Avengers. (Quicksilver marries an Inhuman in the comics.)

?? – The Amazing Spider-Man 3
OK, already admitted I haven’t seen TASM 1 or 2. So I can’t say I’m psyched for a 3rd. I really should go watch these.

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2019

April 5: Shazam
Kinda glad that The Rock will be Black Adam. I think he’ll be great in that role. But I’m worried over who they will cast in the titular role…and also if they’ll stick to the “little boy says SHAZAM! and transforms into a big superhero” story.

May 3: The Avengers: Infinity War, Part Two
After this, I’m thinking Joss Whedon takes a long vacation. Because he will have expended much of his genius in wrapping up this saga and blowing my 46-year-old mind. #old

June 14: Justice League 2

Hoping.
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2020
April 3: Cyborg
Great potential with this origin story. Of course, we may all BE cyborgs in 2020, so it might be kind of blah.

June 19: Green Lantern
Wonder if DC will learn from its mistakes from the first time around. And if we’ll see another origin story here. And if anyone can top Mark Strong’s Sinestro.
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As the kids say, “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”

Celebrating My 25th Anniversary With @HowardStern

I was 16 when I first heard those dulcet tones, talking about sex and farting and celebrities and how much better Howard Stern was than all the Morning Zoo DJs he was going to send to the unemployment office.

And for the last three months of my junior year of high school, Howard Stern helped me survive excruciating pain, probable depression and definite loneliness.

If you’ve never woken up in agony, I don’t recommend it. I was in the throes of what would be misdiagnosed several times, but the upshot is that I had severe pain in my legs — it felt like they were in an ever-tightening vise if I sat up with them hanging over the side of the bed or a chair.

So I’d wake up, take my pre-laid-out medication with warm water that had sat by my bed all night, and turn on the neurotic New York nuttiness that was the Howard Stern Show.

And with his cadre of kooky characters — Boy Gary with his teeth, Frightening Fred Norris, Jackie The Jokeman, Stuttering John, and the “voice of reason” Robin Quivers — they took my mind off of my problems and pain.

The legend.

The legend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-five years later, there he was again. Driving to work, in desperate need of a laugh, I flipped on Howard 100 (thanks SiriusXM).

The next 15 minutes of my commute were an escape.

—  Howard was talking about something as ordinary as his cat Yoda.

—  And then Mariann from Brooklyn called in, with her “nails on your spinal cord” voice.

—  And then the news, intro’d with a song parody of Jay Z’sEmpire State of Mind” that sang the praises of Robin’s breasts.

—  And then somehow, the subject turned to a Wack Packer-type named “Tabboo” from the mid-’90s, who was memorable for his/her song?/rap? called “It’s Natural” in a voice that haunts my dreams.

—  And then the always-reliable Fred cueing up the song right away.

—  And then Robin steers back to the news, and Howard riffing on it.

(I always told people who said they didn’t like Howard to listen during the news — that they’d see him for what he is — an  insightful, observational comic, a brilliant interviewer and basically a fucking genius.)

—  And then he did a live read of an ad with the same voice I remember, lying in my teenage bedroom with the Kathy Ireland Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar posters. The voice that started my day with celebrities, boobs, ratings battles, fart sounds and laughs — and helped me to survive all that I was going through — back in 1986, and today in 2014.

**********

Thanks @HowardStern. You’ll probably never read this, and I know there are thousands of stories just like mine.

Just keep doing what you do as long as you can.

And Baba Booey to you all.

You Laughed at a Dead Man

Yeah, let’s laugh at and deride Philip Seymour Hoffman.

For some of you, he’s just another disposable celebrity who couldn’t handle his addiction and ended up dead because of it.

After all, he was just one of 23 MILLION AMERICANS addicted to alcohol and drugs.
(Multiple sources confirm that approximate number. Don’t believe me? Google it.)

Oh, and only 11% of those struggling with addiction seek and receive treatment.

So laugh it up if you must. Or spout off with these old chestnuts of ignorance:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

“He should have just gone to rehab.”

He did.

And like more than half of people who go to rehab (also confirmed by multiple online sources), he relapsed.

He knew he had a problem. He had the resources to fight it. He worked at it and got clean.

And it still got the best of him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
“He had kids.”

And you think he didn’t love them as much as you love yours?

Does that maybe give you an inkling of how powerful an addiction can be?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
“Where were his family, friends, agents, entourage?”

I’m sure they gave as much love and support as they could.

What more could they do? Handcuff themselves to him 24/7?

Nobody can just “fix” another person or cure them of an addiction. It’s a lifelong battle.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
“All he needed was to toughen up and find some willpower.”

He had every reason to quit and every reason to live.

A partner and kids. A wonderful career with awards and respect.

And his addiction overpowered all of that.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Until we as a nation wake up and understand that our views on addiction and mental health issues are incredibly ignorant and just plain wrong, sad deaths like this will continue to happen.

To bring it home for you, imagine the 100 people in your family and close circle of friends.

Statistically, 7 of them are addicts. (317 million Americans, 23 million addicts = about 7%.)

If any of them die too early, I wonder if you’ll laugh at them as easily as you did at some celebrity.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

I’m not saying you have to mourn Philip Seymour Hoffman and rip your clothes and cry your eyes out.

But it is too much ask to show a little empathy for another human being?

Someone struggling with demons that we may be lucky enough to NOT understand?

Are we that cold, callous and unfeeling?

I sure hope not.

 

I do this every day.

I do this every day.

Examine The Area for bumps, openness, bleeding, dryness, red/purple/black discoloration.
I’m 16. I cannot sit with my legs over the side of the bed, as the rush of blood causes tremendous pain. I miss the last three months of my junior year. It’s all because of a few small purple wounds on my lower legs. My first run of Prednisone, which is a miracle drug that masks the pain and symptoms but is not a cure. I do experience many of the side effects of large doses of Prednisone, but I suppose they’re more tolerable than the pain.

I miss the baseball season, Junior Prom, and my grades sink even though I tried to keep up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I do this every day.

Determine if topical treatment is necessary.
I’m 19. Riding the bench for a Division III baseball team. But I’m in Cocoa, Florida, enjoying our annual spring break trip that includes ten games in seven days. The pain starts in my legs again. Heavy. Dull. Aching. Walking is hard, much less playing ball. A couple small purple wounds. My doctor sends me Prednisone via overnight shipping. A few months on it, and eventually it doesn’t hurt with every single step I take, walking from the furthest house on campus to my classes. Things get back to normal. In the deepest parts of my brain, I know my baseball days are done.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I do this every day.

If necessary, apply topical treatment.
I’m 25. On a trip to my brother’s grad school graduation, my parents notice me caring for a giant purple scab on my left leg. (Looking back, I have no idea how I let it get that bad.) When we return home, I see my doctor — who refers me to the wound care department of a rehab/therapy facility. On my first visit, the specialist takes a look at my left leg (the outside part, mid-shin-high), puts on his latex gloves and grabs some kind of tweezers. I ask, “Uh, what are you doing?” He calmly replies that the scab has to come off.

He clips and tugs gently, and shockingly, the removal does not hurt. (I have a Polaroid of this actual moment, but I will spare you the visual. Unless you want to see it. Post in the Comments below if you’d like me to send you the photo.) Underneath the crusty purple scab is a half-inch-deep layer of what looks like wet pink goosebumps. He places a non-adhesive bandage on The Area (as I will refer to it now and forever) and wraps it with cling-roll bandages, followed by tape to hold the bandages on.

I am to return three times a week for hot whirlpool treatment, which sounds cool but is limited to my left leg below the knee. This is to debride (remove any bacteria, dirt, etc.) The Area and hopefully enable healing.

For several years, this kind of treatment — and many others — had varying degrees of success and failure in trying to heal The Area. Real skin graft. Artifical skin graft. My own plasma, spun in a centrifuge and frozen.

Some of The Area heals, breaking it into separate segments. But then it gets angry again, the segments join together and become one big nasty deep ulcer, which is finally diagnosed, properly, as pyoderma gangrenosum. (Google it only if you dare, yucky photos abound.)

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I do this every day.

Place bandage or gauze pad on The Area.
I’m somewhere between 25 and 30. (If you had all this in your head, you’d be fuzzy on dates too.)

A hacking winter cough leads to amoxicillin, which leads to a bad reaction, a fever, weakness and fatigue, and finally a hospital stay. The diagnosis is C. Difficile Colitis, seemingly brought on by the medication. While in the hospital, they test me and confirm that I also have Crohn’s colitis. And after trying a whirlpool treatment that had me literally screaming (you try putting your exposed nerve endings in swirling hot water), a surgical debridement is done. Because the pain of the surgery would be so great, they have to knock me out (and keep me going on morphine).

A few days later, I am quite possibly bending the metal bar on the side of my hospital bed as they attempt to remove the silver nitrate bandage that has protected The Area since the surgery. This is horror-movie-level pain. When I am finally released from the hospital, I am on 80mg of Prednisone a day (which will take about a year to slowly wean off of), as well as Oxycontin and a couple immunosuppressive drugs.

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I do this every day.

Apply three long strips of tape that extend beyond bandage to adhere to leg.
I’m 31. I’ve met a woman who could be The One. She’s gorgeous, she’s fun, she’s smart, and she challenges me. And somehow, I have to share all this with her without scaring her off.

“Hey, so we’re really getting along well here, and I need to let you know that I have two rare and chronic diseases, and there’s a giant ugly hole in my leg. Do you want to get an appetizer?”

(The above is NOT how it went. I honestly don’t remember. I do know I had enough sense not to have that discussion on the first date or before a meal.)

Regardless, she had to know what she was getting into. And I later found out that at first, it was difficult for her to handle — because my health issues could become very important in our shared future. Happily, she realized that my awesomeness (and humility) was worth any health issue we had to deal with. (Note: We’ve been married for 8 years now.)

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I do this every day.

Carefully pull compression sock over foot and then up leg to knee.
I’m 36. I’m tightly holding my wife’s hand in the operating room as our beautiful girls enter the world. It is the most surreal, wonderful, exhilarating experience of my life. And in the middle of it all, I wonder if these innocent little angels will have to deal with health issues like mine. I hope they don’t get any of my bad genes, only the good ones. Sadly, parents are pretty helpless in that department.

The girls were preemies, and both had 3-week NICU stays. You can read that story here, but suffice it to say that after a terrifying ordeal, the girls are healthy and amazing. I just want them to stay that way forever and ever. Is that too much to ask?

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I do this every day.

Go about day as if everything is normal.
I’m 41 as I write this. That number blows me away. I vividly remember thinking “wow, I’ll be 27 in the year 2000.” Well, here we are, 14 years after THAT. I’ve got a nice bald spot going on top of my head, plus some serious gray/silver happening in the remnants of my once-semi-glorious head of hair. And that’s no big deal.

My health is under control, thanks mostly to my Remicade infusions every six weeks or so. It’s no big deal, I get an IV infusion and work on my laptop during the four-hour treatment. If that’s what’s keeping away new wounds or Crohn’s flares, then it’s a tiny price to pay.

But every day, I go through the steps written here in bold type. And let’s be clear about something — there are many people who have it worse than me. I know this, and have reminded myself of this fact for years. There are pyoderma patients with wounds that never heal, or break out in much worse places than the lower leg. And there are Crohn’s and IBD patients who require surgeries and removal of intestines and all kinds of other life-changing procedures.

I didn’t write this for pity. I wrote it I was pushed by a buddy (thanks, Matthew) who believes you’re either a creator or a consumer — and I wanted to focus on being that first one for a bit.

Above all, I wanted to share a part of my daily routine that very few people know about, and even fewer can relate to. Maybe I wanted to persuade the 17 of you who read this to be grateful if you have your health. It is truly a gift to be cherished.  And to remember that there is always someone who has it worse than you.

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I do this every day.