Back up

After what seems like forever I have rescued my blog from the well entrenched grips of malware. As a part of the cleaning and fixing I am deleting a lot of subscribers because I suspect that one or more of them are the reason for the malware limbo that my website has lived in for way too long.

As I struggle to become more technically savvy to keep this from happening again I haven’t yet figured out how to just send an email to subscribers but I think making a post will let people know, and those that are actual subscribers and not just weird automated malware providers will see this. I am not deleting everyone, though of the 50 or so names I’ve deleted so far I haven’t recognized any. If I accidentally delete you I’m apologizing in advance and asking you to re-subscribe. As a point of reference, I’ll try to finish this and post something new by 11 May.

So look for another post from me before next Friday and if you don’t see one, check back at byrdmouse.com. Thanks for your patience and understanding and we’ll talk again real soon.

Change Your Liking

Today I got an email from the uncle my cousins and I have called Uncle Doughnut since I was young. I can’t say he’s my favorite uncle mostly because I don’t have favorite uncles or aunts, but he was always the cool uncle. Still is. He is still a bachelor, buys top of the line toys (like cameras, electronics, appliances, etc.), always got us great Christmas gifts whether as individuals or as a group, and on Saturday mornings he brought Krispy Kreme doughnuts. For lunch he brought Desportes’s french bread because when we hung out at Mama and Daddy Byrd’s we usually had some meal that went well with bread. My memory is fuzzy on when, but at some point in the 70s he went to the Canary Islands to live for a while. This was a few years before Aunt Maggie and Uncle Scotty took off sailing on the Robin for 30 years but I fondly recall each week when we found out there was a new post card with a picture of where he or they were or what they had seen. One of those cool Uncle Doughnut gifts was a 12 volume set atlas. Two volumes were the United States, but the other ten were the rest of the world.

I never modeled my life after Uncle Doughnut, but to this very day no matter how full I am there is still room for hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts (and peach cobbler but that’s another story), and I love bread. There is a soft spot between my breastbone and my belt line for them. My affinity for these aren’t all because of him, but no doubt he had an impact.

Back to today’s email. It included a link to a 60 Minutes clip about Rick Steves. I had never heard of Rick or his brand of travel books. Then again, until I got here I’d never heard of Rothenburg and didn’t know why my Introduction to Bavaria instructor mentioned that all Americans want to go there. But Rick’s explanation of why Americans should see Europe resonates with me. It resonates because even before I heard him say it, it is my own.

Early on he says that if when you travel the experience isn’t to your liking, change your liking. At about 3:50 in the video it gets really good, and at 4:30 the hook was set. I stopped watching news on the television back in the 90s but I knew 1) the question she was about to ask, and 2) his answer at 4:30. This is why I wanted to move my family to Europe, to get them out of the country to see what the rest of the world is and how it works.

I saw part of the world from inside a tour bus with tinted windows. The buses were an armoured SUV and an MRAP. The windows were bulletproof. But the view was eye-opening enough that I realized that I wouldn’t be a good father if I didn’t show my daughters that despite the fact I wanted to put them on a pedestal they would never change the lightbulb by standing still and waiting for the world to revolve around them.

Rick’s reasons repeat themselves. Last week I mentioned to some Germans I work with that as Americans we are arrogantly ethnocentric. Just today I told some other Germans I was glad to be in this country because they have common sense. At the Nuremberg Zoo (Tiergarten Nuremberg) Saturday Ginger and I both saw and commented on things we’d never see in the states. Some pansy would sue because they stubbed their toe on an uneven sidewalk or missing bollard. It was excessive that my daughter jumped the fence to join the llamas in their compound but here, unlike America (more specifically Norte Americano for my Bolivian friend), they don’t protect us from ourselves. The insanity that is the norm that causes us to not know which bathroom to pee in just doesn’t manifest itself here. The reasons TO travel continue to reassert themselves as we DO travel. They are underlined, quotated, highlighted, parenthesized, capital lettered, and away from everything else on the other side. Constantly.

Byrd Boys love Biloxi. I am a fifth generation Biloxian, and all my uncles on the Byrd side spent the majority of their life either in Biloxi or right next door (one lived in Ocean Springs, the town where Biloxi was founded in 1699, another story for another time). I never imagined living anywhere else, and once I left I never imagined living there again. Before I left I saw the first two volumes. I’ve seen a lot of the United States and love it almost as much as Biloxi. The more I see of the other ten volumes of this giant world the more I realize how small it is. Taking my family out into the great big world is going to show them how small it is, too. Uncle Laurence didn’t make me want to leave to see the world, but he did remind me why I did. Rick Steves reminded me why. We both are doing our part in our own way to make an impact on American narrow-mindedness.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

-Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Fair warning world, the Byrd’s are loose.

P.S. Neither Dad, Mom, nor my Mother-in-law can blame Uncle Laurence, Aunt Maggie, or Uncle Scotty for causing me to move my wife and their grandchildren 5000 miles away. At least until they’ve come for their first visit and seen the Achtung, the Complicated, the Proper, and the Lovable Chaos for themselves. For my part I can’t wait to meet the later or show the former.

Our Day of Infamy

What follows is an account of what I was doing on this day fourteen years ago. It is predominantly a re-post from a few years ago but this day will always hold more significance for me because I spent the last two 11 Septembers in Afghanistan. I didn’t go there because of today, but if it hadn’t been for this day I wouldn’t have been there.

On this day most of us remember where we were when we still had a World Trade Center in New York, New York (the town so nice, they named it twice).

For my part, I was going in to work late because I had something to deliver for work in downtown Birmingham. I was going to give my brother-in-law a ride to his condo in Dirt Pile (known to everyone besides he and I as a little burg named Mountain Brook). I stopped at my normal gas station, a Jet Station. You cannot make up the good stuff.

When I went in to pay the clerk told me that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. Now this did not concern me one little bit. NOT IN THE LEAST! Because I am a Civil Engineer, at the time I was still in school, in fact, I was taking my Structural Steel class. But I wasn’t worried because I know that skyscrapers are designed to withstand an airline collision. Of course, that design is predicated on the fact that the pilot realizes he’s headed for a building and is attempting to avoid it. The Empire State Building was hit by a B-25 in 1945. It is, to my knowledge, the highest fire that has ever been successfully put out. But when the pilot realized a collision was unavoidable he was still trying to avoid it.

Getting back into the truck we continued on and heard that the second tower was hit. Immediately I realized, the first plane wasn’t trying to miss and we were in for a bad day. Modern sky scrapers are not made to hold the weight of the floors above them. The floors are designed to hold up the weight of the floor, the weight is then transferred down. It is a fascinating concept that is a part of the reason I never wanted to be a structural engineer, however, no engineer can ever look at a structure without thinking load transfer ever.

As the radio told us the second tower was hit I turned to my brother-in-law and said, “Johnny, some country just used to exist.” I was as positive of that then as I am now.

A Really Big Cup of Tea

In a recent conversation with a friend I was asked the question of what I think about the Republican Party attempting to take out the Tea Party. Then later I watched a short video of a Doctor Who/Rocky Horror Picture Show Parody. What do these things have in common with the description of how the improbability drive on the Heart of Gold works? Everything, of course.

I was a walking down the street just a having a think when it hit me that The Tea Party itself is foreshadowed nicely by the 70s era Time Warp (1973 if you’re counting).

I grew up in the South. The Deep South. I mean can’t get any further South without getting your feet wet, American by birth Southern by the Grace of God South. Southern Living isn’t a magazine, it’s just a record of what goes on. I’m talking north of Wiggins is Yankee territory. I picked on my wife for years for being a Northerner because she was from around Birmingham. I was 14 before I found out that DamnYankee was two words. South. And I came out of the South with traditional conservative values.

My whole career has been spent trying to pay as much in taxes as I possibly can. Not because I want an increase in my tax bracket but because the amount I owe increases with my salary as the tax rate decreases.

Before anyone tries revokes my Alabama residency, I hate taxes. The state motto shouldn’t be “Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere”  but “Alabama, Odious Tributa!” While other people say they hate taxes, in Alabama we put our money where our mouth is on that. So the Taxed Enough Already Party should seem to be the one for me. But again, it’s the Time Warp on many levels.

Take your typical Right Wing (yeah, I’m a Right Wing Nut Job and I’ll say it) Nut Job. Now, “It’s just a jump to the left.” Get away from the idealists who believe in unchecked laissez-faire capitalism without a system of helping out the less fortunate. I’m right there with you.

But the Tea Party doesn’t jump all the way to the Libertarian way of thinking, they stop short, think better of it, “and then a step to the right.” We like Republican candidates, we don’t like Republican candidates. They’re our guy; no they’re not. The Tea Party People don’t seem to commit. Almost like the Southern Democrats of old who proclaim to be Democrats vehemently until such time as they get into the polls and close the curtain–then they voted conservatively.

“Put your hands on your hips,” the traditional body language for I don’t think so, really, and so many other sardonic ways of saying not on my watch. You can take my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands (much different than Molon Labe, because that’s Greek to me). My God, my family, my country. Don’t Tread on Me. Any number of clichés that represent the unchanging way of leave it alone.

Of course, for the true RHPS fans “Your own hips!” Not the guy/gal in front of you. No hanky-panky in the ranks. Do it behind closed doors.

“And pull your knees in tight.” Alright, guess keeping it in your pants, holding an aspirin between your knees for conservative values is not an oft-echoed sentiment though anti-abortion certainly is and I put that in this category. Perhaps its a bit of a stretch but I am using a cult classic song from a drug-haze written movie to describe a serious political movement.

“But it’s the pelvic thrust” which is unfiltered symbolism for sex. Not even hidden, I mean straight up “fuck it.” Which the Tea Party supporters can find themselves doing at election time. Support the Tea guy, support the Republican guy, screw it all up and let the liberal candidate win. For those looking for an obscure reference but perfect example see John C. Breckinridge/Stephen Douglas fiasco that perfectly highlighted a conservative party split that allowed a liberal candidate to win.

Watching network news “That really drives you insane.” I stopped watching it in the mid-90s before it replicated itself. It, and talk radio, is full of near caricatures of extreme ideals attempting to “educate” the masses by merely giving them “talking points” to use in their arguments (because we can’t call them debates) with non-like minded others. Driving people into a frenzy of name-calling and comparisons to debacles and fiascos of all sorts that the other group finds so critical yet fall short of the importance of the current issue du jour.

By all means, “Let’s do the time warp, again.” But what’s my point? Am I saying eschew the Republican Party? No. Am I saying abandon the Tea Party? No. Am I saying to take either of them over the Democratic Party? No. Am I saying we should all become Libertarians? No. History repeats itself because no one listens.

The trip to Frank N. Furter’s Castle was a drug-tripping, eye-opening, life-changing event. It ended in something taking off that left a giant hole and a motley group of people lying around wondering WTF just happened.

It’s astounding, time is fleeting.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Seventeen Years of Daily Pain

It may have been there all along. Festering like a half-eaten Twinkie in an open wrapper dropped behind the counter on the way out the door for a month-long vacation. But the last month-long vacation I had was in 1996. When it all really started.

For years I hated it. So badly I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies. I once found myself envious of Fred Flinstone. Fred could stand all day long barefoot. He could power his car manually, stand at the quarry on his brontosaurus excavator, all without pain. When you find yourself envying a cartoon’s ability to do more than you, there’s a clear sign of an issue.

Even today when I’m forced to stop and sit I don’t feel like an injured person in pain, I feel like I appear to be a perfectly healthy individual who is just lazy and doesn’t want to work. And no matter who knows it or understands it, it doesn’t go away.

Others with chronic pain may feel different, but I know I’m not unique. Occasionally someone will ask me why I don’t try certain fixes. Truth is, I’ve tried most. Others say they wouldn’t stop trying, they wouldn’t hold off on a potential fix. But by not trying everything there’s something left to try. What if it does work? Then yes, the pain would be gone. But what if it doesn’t work? Hope is not a course of action, but without it you can’t try anything. Trying everything means that there’s nothing left to try. And if nothing works, there is no hope something can.

Yes it’s pessimistic and unlike me. The glass is not half full, it’s not half empty, it’s not half empty with a hole in the bottom and leaking. The engineer answer may be that it’s twice the capacity it needs to be. The glass is always completely full. It’s half full of liquid, half full of air, but always full. Trying it all means nothing left in the tank to try.

Faith works not by being able to prove the faith was well founded and deserved. Faith works by trusting that there is an answer.

The diagnosis in 97 was plantar fascitis. By 98 I was out of the army and able to get a podiatrist to explain it was bursitis. Often misdiagnosed according to her. Then she moved to a place called Pell City and I got another doctor. One of the best in Birmingham. He took care of me and my custom-made insoles personally, not someone on his staff. We shared symptoms. We shared solutions. We had matching custom-made insoles. Brothers in feet as it were.

When I first met him I gave him two instructions: never give me a remedy that would cause me to need another remedy to fix the side-effects of the first remedy, and we weren’t going to use steroids. It took four years before we broke the second rule.

Steroids are a nearly fool-proof way to fix the issue, but it runs a greater risk of breaking the first rule. But they worked for this fool. The pain of getting the shots were far greater than the pain in my feet. But for all its intensity, it was brief. That pain ended quickly. Then I walked around on unfeeling feet like they were asleep for a few hours. Then, I got a break.

For two weeks I had no pain in my feet. No daily hurt. No limping. No work through it. No ignore it and hope it goes away. No pain. After five years of daily pain, there was none.

Then it began again.

Another three years and I finally got a regular doctor. This doc once gave me a prescription–handwritten on his prescription pad–that told me to smile. It was a doctor’s order for me to be happy. This is the same guy that didn’t laugh or think it the least bit funny when I asked if his telling me I had very low cholestorol meant I needed to eat more red meat and fried foods. I digress but you knew I would.

My regular doctor told me he thought my problems were nerves. He gave me a pill that I swear the pharmacutical companies tried on everything. And it gave me the most severe case of medicine head I have ever had. For the first week if I shut my eyes I fell asleep. I never felt awake. For two weeks my feet again felt no daily pain, but to be honest, I’m not sure it hurt to take things out of the oven without mits either. I could feel nothing except that I was detached from myself.

I went back to the doctor and said take these pills and shove them. I gave him back the pills, not figuratively, I physically handed him the bottle and said, “It worked, but I’m too young to take a pill every day for the rest of my life and if it makes me feel like that I wouldn’t do it anyway.”

So I went back to taking the pill of daily foot pain again.

Three more years, a full decade of going to my podiatrist and he finally admited (as he gave me my second shot of steroids) that it was both plantar fascitis and bursitis. Then he told me to take non-steroidal anti-inflammmatory drugs morning, noon and night, whether I felt pain or not. This time the steroids wore off in a week. Not because they were less potent but because I didn’t quit what caused the pain.

There is no pattern to when or where my feet will hurt. Though there are some things I can do that I know will make them hurt. Why would I knowingly do something that will cause me pain? Because I have to. They are things like stand around and talk. Sometimes it’s on a job site, sometimes its waiting in line for a table, or a meal, or a prescription to be filled. Sometimes it’s working on the roof, or in the yard, or moving someone. Placing a concrete driveway, building a house, putting up a swingset, cutting the grass, pressure washing the drive, these things don’t do themselves and whether they’re done for me, by me, or for a friend, something must be done.

This time, I had to work. The staff I had did not cut it. Failure was not an option and since they weren’t doing it I had to. Yes I should have better motivated them, or fired them, but they were civil servants used to not having to do anything they didn’t want to do. There’s more to it than that, but I had to keep walking up and down the miles of roads I was paving to insure they didn’t need to be paved again. So the third vacation from pain lasted only a week.

Then another pain developed. Abdominal. I got a new doctor, a real asshole doctor. This guy got pissed at his partners when someone changed the automated answering machine and he wasn’t the doctor you got when you pressed the number one. I’m not even sure his wife liked him. This guy was an arrogant prick. One of his former staff warned me I wouldn’t like him. But he was good. And I liked him. We hit it off great because I showed him in the first meeting that he wasn’t going to talk all doctory to me. He wasn’t going to sound intelligent, whatever he said I would dissect, digest, and regurgitate. I trumped his fifty-cent words and got his mutual respect. There was no typical Frosina Doctor/Patient talking down. We were equals. A few years later we spent more time talking about the Kobiyashi Maru and how it related to my four decade physical then the actual physical, but this was the beginning of the dance. Although, I am a Baptist. A Southern Baptist. We don’t dance. The Catholic doctor didn’t dance with me either. He was stumped. No clue as to what caused the pain.

When next I visited my podiatrist I told him of my dance with Dr Dick. In an off-handed manner he mentioned it was probably the NSAIDs. That sugar-pill of a pain reliever I had had a prescription for for over a decade. That he had told me to take three times daily regardless. He broke my first rule. Sometimes when someone gets mad at another person they sulkily end the relationship without revealing why. I did not do that, though he did not know I was ending the relationship. In stern voice I told him that for 10 years I had instructed him ont to give me a “fix” that would cause me to need another fix and after leaving that appointment have not been back to him.

I also left the world of pain pills. Well, pretty much medicine altogether. Not doctors though.

In my five years without a podiatrist my feet still hurt. They have been hurting me since before I started writing even though I’ve been off of them all night long. I did find another doctor, this one not only laughed but when I asked him if his telling me I had very low cholesterol meant I needed to eat more red meat and fried foods he said emphatically, “Yes!” So now every piece of fried chicken is doctor’s orders. But I haven’t yet gotten a new podiatrist.

Five weeks out of seventeen years is not a long time. That’s all I have had relief from my daily foot pain. But the other thing I gained has caused as much pain and consternation without a five week absence.

My daily foot pain began on 23 May 1997 while I waited for the birth of my M. The next day, at 1208 PDT she arrived. Like the Grinch, my heart grew that day and has never shrunk. I’ve worried I could be a good father, I’ve worried she might not make it, I’ve feared her falling, but I have seen her soar. I watched a failed attempt at flying like the PowerPuff Girls, and I’ve watche the Princess fail to sleep atop a pea. Tears well to my eyes whether it’s The Color of the Wind or a desire to Let it Snow. I can’t let those tears Rain on My Parade, but holy larynxes, that girl has some pipes in her.

I will never cease to fear where she may tread but I will be forever proud of every step she makes. Foot pain may come and foot pain may go, but the pain of being a father outweighs it all. Because this pain has a face. This pain is a joy. The pain of being a Dad is immensely offset by being a Dad.

I love you, Emma Byrd. No man will ever be good enough for you, no pedestal high enough, and no eighteen hundred and sixty word essay long enough to describe the joy you bring.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~