1984, what a year

1984 was a year of changes for me. No I didn’t run for president of the United States campaigning for changes, I’m not into politics. I think ALL politicians are self serving egotistical individuals that are there to control the lives of the rest of us while paying themselves millions. If the founding fathers seen the government we have today and how it created a society that has become dependent on them, a government, for daily survival, they’d be rolling over in their graves. I look forward to your surveillance, wiretaps, audits, etc. etc. ect. …

That’s about as far as I go. I don’t care! I like my own little world. I have great friends. I’ve made a living for myself. I’ve done and seen so many wonderful things in this country. I’ve traveled to 46 of these 50 great United States. The PEOPLE in America are great. I’m happy. I’m surviving. Crap! How did I get on politics so I need to apologues?


1984, not just the title of an album, can you name the band? For me, my adjusting to my new life was finally on track. I had found out that the diarrhea I had been living with for nearly two years was caused by one of the prescription medicines I was taking daily, so I switched to one with less side effects. You’ve seen them ads? Take my pill and you’ll be cured of whatever ails you. Some will experience weight gain, weight loss, liver spots, loss of hair, growth of hair in unusual places, night blindness, glowing in the dark, skin growth between your toes, growth of additional toes, the belief that you can sing, erections that won’t go away until you sleep with everyone in the Wooden Nickel on a Tuesday night! Oh, and some will die, so please see your physician before it happens.

Well it turned out I was one of the 1% that suffered from one of the side effects of a prescription medicine I was taking. My new doctor in Denver didn’t believe me when I told him my problem. The next year when I went, I didn’t drink the half the bottle of Pepto-Bismol before seeing him. Within a few minutes, he believed me. But even after several tests he didn’t know what was causing the problem. He just gave me a new prescription to combat my problem. It was on a trip to visit my sister and brother-in-law, Connie and Mark, that I forgot a prescription medicine. WOW! Within a day my problem got better. I went back home to Marquette and bought a car. Why? I had the worst case of cabin fever known to man. I finally felt like I could leave my home.

It was in October when my brother John told me he had a friend, Todd (?), whose next door neighbor had a car for sale. After a quick call to find out if it was a two door, I need a two door car so I can put my wheelchair behind the driver’s seat, off we went to look at it. Todd didn’t know what kind of a car it was on the phone, but I saw those three lovely letters, GTO, on the front grill when we drove up. The car looked in good shape. It was a faded white car with a blue vinyl top. Looking inside the car, I seen right away it had electric windows and door locks. A quick look to the dash and yes, A/C! Although I later learned it didn’t work. Add in tilt steering wheel, bucket seats, hide-away headlights (it’s the later models that had the headlights that were side by side, not above and below each other), 400 cubic inch motor, near new snow tires on the rear and new battery. I knew I was leaving with this car. I did have one concern. I was taught to transfer into the passenger side of the two door car with a bench seat. I was then taught to slide across and to fold my wheelchair up and pull it into the passenger side back seat. This car had bucket seats, a center console and a floor shifter. What I was taught wasn’t going to work. But I wasn’t going to worry about that until I got home. It was now time to buy the car.

The man showing me the car was a doctor and said it was his wife’s car that it had high mileage, 80,000 miles, because she often drove it to California. When the guy asked $275, I responded with $150. He said his wife wanted $275. I pretended to think about it for a few seconds, but I knew I was buying it at $275. I had brought $500 with me. Todd drove me home in my new 1969 Pontiac GTO. I was all smiles! My brother John installed the hand control on the steering column so I could work the throttle, brake and toggle switch for the headlight dimmer switch and a knob on the steering wheel so I could steer. I use my right hand to steer and my left hand to work the throttle and brake. It’s one lever. I pull the lever down towards my lap for the throttle and push it straight towards the brake peddle to brake. As for the rest of the controls, heater, a/c, stereo, light switches, etc., it’s a little tricky. Often I’ll just pull over. I love those historical road side markers. I’ve read hundreds of them when stopping for a drink of water, piece of beef jerky, adjusting the radio, etc. whiling traveling the U.S. Do you know the center line on roads was first started on hwy 492 between Marquette and Negaunee? Old 492 had a corner know as dead man’s curve.

That winter I only drove the car 5 or 6 times, but I spent hours and hours practicing how it get, not just myself, but my wheelchair in and out of my 1969 Pontiac GTO. Spring came to Marquette and I never looked back. I had a car, met Danny Joe, I was going out of my house at the drop of a hat, I was stronger and I had built up endurance, I was ready for the world.

In my mind, fear is the worst handicap you can have. I know, I lived with fear, and still I’m afraid of things. When you wake up one day paralyzed and don’t know how to do things, I.e. hold a fork to eat, a brush to fix your hair, put on pants, etc. so when someone else starts doing it for you, it becomes very easy to let them. Even though after a while you learn how to perform some, many or most of those tasks, fear sets in. If you start showing people you can do things on your own, maybe dress yourself in the mornings, fear sets in. It is so easy to let people do things for you. I won’t lie to you; I had that fear in the beginning. Then when I was on the wrong medicine and had the diarrhea for close to two years, it’s easy to give up and let the world take care of you. Then that fear keeps you from becoming independent, being able to make it on your own. Some people crawl into a hole and never come out. Some people blame others or the world and use that as an excuse. Others use drugs or alcohol to hide from the fear. For me, I’m the luckiest man on earth. I hit rock bottom. I was in an accident and became paralyzed for life. I lost all my disability money due to a poor investment. I developed diarrhea for close to two years that no one knew why. Finally I let fear control my life. But I’m a lucky man.

Last week I was at the dentist office. I finally found a good dentist that I trust. When he was pulling me, my wheelchair out of the tight exam room area, he continued pushing me towards the door leading out to the waiting room. Vanessa, a lovely young lady with a brittish  accent told the doctor to quit pushing me, that I could push myself. When I didn’t protest being pushed, Vanessa than looked at me and made the comment, ”You like being mothered?” I just smiled. I knew where I’ve been fore the past 33 years. While yes, for a short time, I accepted more help then I needed during the first couple of years, I made up for it by refusing help from anyone when I absolutely didn’t need it for decades. Now, I’m 50 years old and my body is sore, tired and wearing out. I don’t think of it as being mothered. I look at it as a sign of respect. Something I’ve earned.

I went to Kentucky to visit my sister and her husband. I went there to visit for a week. I’m paralyzed from the chest down, which means I cannot feel, move or control anything from the chest down. That includes going to the bathroom. Its different for me, not by much, more that I need a commode chair to go. When I visited my sister Connie, she rented one for me. I had one at home, but it didn’t travel well. So until 1984, the one trip to Kentucky was the only time I left Marquette since May 12, 1979 for more than three days. That was the longest I could go without going, especially more than an hour or two drive from Marquette in case I was wrong. Then in January of 1984, my parents said they were going to Vegas in a few weeks for four days. Even though it was one more day then I could possibly make it and an airplane ride away, I called up my best friend Mike and asked him if he wanted to go to Las Vegas? When he said yes, I was a happy man. It was time to conquer the last bit of fear I had from getting on with my life.

I went to JC Penny’s and bought the largest suitcase from their odd lot selection they had. It was a pinkish rose color, but I didn’t care. It was cheap. I then went into my workshop and set about making a commode chair that easily unassembled/reassembled and that fit in my new rose colored suitcase. It was crude, made from the back part of a wooden kitchen chair, parts of hockey sticks and the seat off of my commode chair from home. After one quick transfer on and off, I was off to Las Vegas.

Vegas was fun, the weekend we went turned out to be on super bowl weekend. I honestly didn’t have a clue when I decided to go. Vegas turned out to be the ideal place for my first soiree for more than three days away from Marquette. We stayed in the El Cortez hotel casino in downtown Las Vegas. I wasn’t smart enough to book a hotel room right away, so I slept on the second bed in my parent’s twin room. We didn’t sleep much, so we barely seen them. Back in 1984, there weren’t many casinos on the strip. There were so far apart you needed a car to travel between them, there weren’t even sidewalks connecting them. Back then, the downtown was the place to be if you wanted to hop from casino to casino. And Mike and I did, for four days. We played mostly quarter slots on that trip. We realized quickly the $20 roll of quarters can disappear in minutes. But we also noticed that the professional slot players stuck to the very few machines that were paying out on a consistent basis. When we’d find a slot machine that was hitting jackpots on a consistent basis, we’d play it until we’d make as much money as we could. That was often more than $100. Then we’d wonder around giving it back until we’d find the next winning machine.

Las Vegas was fun! The one memory I’ll always have from that trip was how many 50 year old fat bald men had young gorgeous wives. These men must have had to be very rich, because their sexy beautiful wives looked so bored standing next to them. Some of these beautiful young women even smiled and flirted with me when their husbands weren’t looking. Yes, I was young and naive.

Since it was super bowl weekend, Mike promised a few of his co-workers he’d place a few bets on the Washington Redskins. I believe they had won the super bowl the year before. In 1984 they were playing against the Los Angeles Raiders. For a few years the Oakland Raiders were playing in L.A. Since Mike was going to place a bet, I decided to bet myself. But I wasn’t going to bet on the Redskins, even though they were heavenly favored by 2 touchdowns, I was going to bet on the Raiders. Neither Mike nor I have ever placed a sports bet, so I went first. I waited 10 minutes until there was no one in line to place bets, than I went up with my $20 bill. I told the cute young woman behind the betting window I wanted to bet $20 on the Raiders. Right away, she asks me how I want to bet it? How? For the Raiders to win? I responded. Again, she asked me how I wanted to bet it? I turn around to see at least 8 people in line to place their bets. I turn back to her and she starts saying something like plus 1, plus 2, etc. I have no idea what that means, so when my mouth opened and words came out, I said, how can I win the most money? She punched something on her keyboard, took my $20 and handed me a betting slip. An hour later Mike and I watched super bowl XVIII, a little while later I cashed in my $20 betting slip with Los Angeles Raiders in bold print on it for $52. I made the right bet….

I arrived home from Los Vegas excited and exhausted at the same time. I was excited because I finally traveled away from Marquette for more than three days, exhausted because the carpets in Vegas are thick and soft. Mike and I went from casino to casino for four days. We never stopped. We did however watched the super bowl in the hotel room. I needed to rest my rear. I was starting to develop red marks from sitting too long. If I develop an open pressure sore, I’m lying in bed for months. Knock on wood, it’s been over 33 years and I’ve never had one. I was promised by a doctor in Marquette when I was 17 that I’d have one. I do feel I’ll have one before I die. As my body ages, it’s more likely it will happen. But I am proud it hasn’t happened yet. I wish I could put into words how much that trip to Las Vegas meant to me in words, but words will never do it justice. Oh, just before leaving for the air port to leave, Mike asked me how I did? I looked in wallet and counted my money. I had a bunch of ones, so I didn’t count them all, but my guess was I was within $5 of how much money I started with. Oh, did I tell you Las Vegas gives free drinks when you’re gambling? Vegas was fun.

Two months after coming home from a wonderful trip to Las Vegas I was driving my 1979 blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo to Florida. Fear to me is a bigger handicap than being paralyzed. Once I knew I could leave home for more the a couple of days, I never looked back. My brother John had a friend living in Miami Florida. I bet we didn’t talk for more than 20, minutes when we both were excited into going to Florida. John was going to join the U.S. Marines, but within a week, we were driving South on Interstate 95. Our welcome to the South wasn’t what I was hoping for. I had a CB radio in my car. I think it was in Georgia when some southern gentleman told this Yankee to go home. In my defense, another Southern gentleman got on the CB and scolded him. He went on to say how us Yankees coming to the South were spending our money down there so those rednecks could have jobs. His words not mine. I quit talking on the CB.

Florida is the longest state you’ll ever drive in if you’re going on spring break. When we crossed the state line entering Florida, we got excited. Then five hours later we were still a couple hundred miles from Miami. John had a best friend that lived in Miami, Spencer. Spencer had a head on his shoulders. He was working for the home improvement store, Home Depot. He was also buying stock in the company out of every payroll check he received. By the time he reached his 30’s he was managing his own store, and if I heard right he was retired before he was 40, a multi millionaire. But I knew Spencer when he was a young wild and crazy guy. He was living with two roommates. They worked hard and they played hard. I think we were there for 3 weeks. We hit every beach we could, Ft Lauderdale when it was ‘’the’’ spring break place to go, bars, clubs, tourist places, you name it. Every day we were there we did something. When one roommate had to work, another took us out. If they all had to work, John and I found things to entertain ourselves. The highlight would have to be Ft Lauderdale. Growing up in Marquette, then in one day seeing 10s of thousands of beautiful women wearing bikinis on a beach on a daily basis was a young man’s dream. I was talking to so many women everyday that they nicknamed me Casanova.

The first few months of 1984 changed my outlook on life. I could wakeup, get out of bed, dress on my own. I could cook my own food. I could drive a car. I could work for money. And now I could now travel for more then a couple of days, and flirt with beautiful woman. There was very little I was now afraid of trying to do. Life was great!

Another 4th of July

I don’t  think I couldn’t tell you what I did on any August 23rd in my life, but days like my birthday, April 17th, New Years Eve or the 4th of July, I have many memories. The 4th of July trip to New York in 1986 is one of those days that have great memories. I went there with Jackie and Jay Are. Two of my life long best friends. 1986, that was a long time ago. Just over a year earlier I had started and was paying for college. I had also purchased a new 1984 E-150 Ford van. I wasn’t a rich man, I had given my father my disability money to invest for me and all I was receiving from him was $14,000 a year, but when Jay Are said road trip to New York to watch the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I’m in!!

For those who don’t know, the statue of liberty was a gift from France. A Frenchman named Frederic Bartholdi decided one day the United States should have the colossal neoclassical sculpture and convinced the people of France to pay for it. Well the statue, the United States was responsible for the base she stands on. Did you know there is a statue of liberty on Mackinac Island? Over the years the one in New York became rusted, in disrepair and in risk of parts of her falling off. A business man named Lee Iacocca raised millions to have her renovated. If you don’t remember Lee Iacocca, he’s the guy who took over Chrysler when it was bankrupt, the first time back in the 80’s, and got it going. Do you remember the TV commercials, ‘’buy a dodge, get a check?’’

The renovations cost $1.7million. On July 4th, 1986 New York was going to celebrate the completion of them with the world’s most expensive fireworks in history, fireworks that cost $2.2 million.

Since Neither Jay Are, Jackie nor I had millions, we drove to New York in my ford van. I was proud of that van. I bought it completely empty. When I say completely empty, I mean completely empty. When I opened the rear doors the first time, all I seen was the cheapest driver’s seat they offered. There wasn’t a passenger seat or any covering on the walls of the van. The van’s walls were bare metal. Over the next year, I designed and purchased all the raw materials to construct a fabric covered foam padded button tuck interior with removable panels for storage behind them. With the help of friends and family, we took an empty van shell and created a one of a kind beautiful custom van.

The overhead consol, which was also covered in the brown fabric button tuck, housed the switches to control the two different colored interior lights that could be dimmed and the power to the stereo. The lights themselves were hid under panels so they were indirect type lighting. The consol also contained the stereo equalizer, front speakers and CB radio. The cheap front seat was replaced with a captain’s chair on swivel base, same for the passenger. In the rear, I bought a tri-fold sofa that matched the interior. It electrically reclined into a bed. My friends even installed my wheelchair lift.

The exterior of the van was overhauled as well. Jay Are added a visor over the front windshield, along with a front air dam and fender flares over the tires. For tires, I bought wide aluminum spooked rims. On them were Firestone 235 60’s on the front and 255 50’s on the rear. As for paint, Jay Are found this brown paint with a gold metal flake – a beautiful color. Not only did he paint the new parts and rims with the paint, but he painted the entire van as well. And the part of the paint job that really set the van apart from all others was Jay Are painted ALL the chrome on the outside of the van with a flat black. Not having chrome really made the gold metal flake brown paint reflect in the sun. Oh, remember the last story of how people mess with my wheelchair lift switches? Jay Are cut a gas cap door out of an old ford pickup truck box and welded it onto the back side panel of the van then mounted the switches inside. No one ever knew the switches where there unlike my new van where everyone can see them. The 351 HO V-8 motor wasn’t left alone either. Jay Are installed headers with dual exhaust and glass packs.

My 1984 brown ford van sounded as beautiful as she looked. With the dual gas tanks full of gas the three of us went to New York for the 1986 4th of July party. Over the years, Jay Are and I made several cross country road trips. Just about every one of them we’d leave after 10 o’clock at night. I liked driving at night, so I’d take the first shift driving. With the two gas tanks, the van had a range of 500 plus miles, so it would be near morning when we’d stop for our first gas stop. At the gas station, Jay Are would fill up while I hit the bed. No hotel room needed to drive to any part of the United States for us. We’d drive straight through. The driving straight through and sleeping in the van saved us hundreds on every trip we made together. Then once on the east coast we visited my friends Chuck and Cassie, who live in Rhode Island and Jackie’s friend Mary who lived with her mother Joan near Boston. Both, of course, let us stay at their houses.

Chuck’s house was fun. It had a swimming pool. If you’ve never been to the east coast in July, it’s hot and humid. The guy that owned the house was a scuba diver. I swim like a rock, so they put the jacket part of his scuba suit, mask and snorkel on me and threw me into the pool. It was so much fun hanging out at the pool. Add to that Cassie’s daiquiris, the best I ever tasted, life was good. At Joan’s house it was eating lobster east coast style. It was the whole lobster. I started by sucking the juice out of each and every leg, then I crack and ate the claws and finally I ate the green stuff before enjoying the tail. I followed Joan’s directions and enjoyed every part of the lobster. Again, life was good. Oh, don’t go to the Braintree mall and order 4 bottles of Dom Perignon at one of the restaurants. They will sell them to you.

When it was time to watch the unveiling of the statue of liberty and the fireworks, we packed up the van with Chuck, Cassie and Mary and drove to Liberty state park in New Jersey. We just looked at a map and thought that would be the best vantage point to watch from. We were right, but getting within a mile was impossible. So I parked the van about a mile from the bay, which was 200 feet from some burnt out abandon cars and on foot we went. You know what I mean.  About 2/3rd of the way in, a ford LTD 4 door stopped right next to us. Some overweight guy with a short hair cut yells at us. What are you guys doing? We’ve got a cooler full of beer, maybe some food and water, maybe? We all look at him. He’s a cop! More likely a detective! Oh crap! What did we do? I think a couple of us just grabbed a beer. We all look at each other as he yells again. What are you doing? Where’s your car? Back there? Someone says and points. One of you guys get in here (his car) and we’ll go get it! We all look at each other and no one volunteered. Although he looked like a police officer, was he? If he was, why was he yelling at us to get in his car, so we can go back to get the van? Why? When he yelled, and I mean yelled, with an angry look, Chuck finally walked over and got in his car. As they drove off, someone said what we were all thinking, I hope he comes back.

30 plus minutes later, the blue ford LTD with a brown ford van following showed up. Jay Are put the cooler back into the van and Chuck drove down to the water front. At a stones ‘’toss’’ from the bay, Chuck parks the van in a handicapped parking space. Although it worked out well, it was so weird how he yelled at us. I’m sure my buddy Steve who is from Connecticut will tell me that’s just how they talk there, get over it!

When the beautiful hot sunny day turned to evening, the world’s most expensive fireworks began. Since we were in New Jersey, we had the statue of liberty just off to the right of us and the Manhattan skyline across the bay. I believe the fireworks were being shot off from something like 21 different locations, but the main show was off of five barges in the middle of the bay. Oh, before I forget, they also had the tall sailing ships from all over the world there. There were thousands of sailing ships of every size you could imagine. We even got to ride on one. Chuck was a welder at company that made parts for racing ships. He made parts that were on ships that raced in the America’s cup. Jay Are remembers the history of the ship we went on better then I, but I recall it raced in the great lakes and the Newport Rhode Island to Bermuda regatta. The owner said it won in its class. I recall the mast on the ship being so tall it barely cleared under a bridge that ocean liners went under. As for world class fireworks shows go, it was simply amazing. Being on the New Jersey side of the bay, we had the entire Manhattan skyline for a back drop. 99% of the fireworks I’ve seen in my life were fun because of the people I was with. While this was true on that New Jersey shore line in 1986 as well, but to watch $2.2 million worth of fireworks live for more than an hour was pretty cool.

When the most amazing fireworks show ended and they had the fire in the hill off in the distance that they started under control, it was time to leave. That meant close to a mile back to the New Jersey turnpike with several hundred thousand people walking in between us and the turnpike. That brings up my brown E-150 personally customized ford van and Jay Are. The van had a CB radio located in the overhead consol. Connected to the CB radio was a PA speaker. Jay Are was a master at making it mimic different sounds. One sound was that of a horse walking on pavement. When you’re stuck in stop and go traffic, he could make it sound like a horse was walking the same speed as the cars. As the cars started to move, he’d make it sound like a horse was walking the same speed. As traffic slowed and stopped, he’d make the horse walking sound slow and stop. Hey when you’re s tuck in traffic for an hour or more to drive a mile, its simple entertainment to watch all the people looking for a horse that isn’t there. But the thing he was really good at was his ability to mimic a police siren. He started doing that as we were leaving. Suddenly people for a quarter mile started looking for the police car or ambulance. There were easy several hundred thousand people between us and the turnpike. When Jay Are started to mimic a police siren, I kid you not, the crowd in front of us parted like Moses parting the red sea. I just drove forward into the newly forming opening Jay Are was creating. It was working so well, Jay Are was starting to get cocky. Off in the distance there was a city bus. Catching a free ride was a guy riding a bicycle hanging on to it. Jay Are says into the microphone of the PA, ‘’Hey you on the bike, get off the bus!’’ Soon everyone riding a bike got off of them and started pushing them. I quickly told Jay Are no more of that.  As we’re passing the crowd, the head lights no longer conceal we’re not an ambulance or the police. Some of the natives aren’t happy we’re pulling a fast one on them. There were many asking for a ride and a few fists banging on the van as we passed. I just drove as fast as I possibly could without hitting anyone. In about 15 minutes, we were on the New Jersey turnpike.

That trip to the east coast was a lot of fun. We also stopped in Washington DC for a day or two. If you have never visited the east coast of America, its a great place to go. The United States of America started there. I’m a history buff, so I love being a tourist there. And yes Jay Are, I finally did find the Liberty Bell, which is in ”Philadelphia.” On one of our trips out there, after driving for 8 hours, and before I was wearing glasses to be able see to read the road signs, did I say I was tired? yet? I started to enter a large city in Pennsylvania. I missed the name of the city. It was only written in big white letters a half dozen times I’m guessing. Well, the scrambled eggs I have for a brain thought I was entering Philadelphia? Jay Are wakes up from his sleep and asks where I’m going? I told him I was going to look for the Liberty bell. Jay Are asks me if I know what town the Liberty bell is in? Of course I know, I told him. It’s in Philadelphia. Jay Are then points toward a huge stadium. The huge sign with letters even I could read without glasses made me feel like the fool I sometimes am. The sign said, ”Three Rivers Stadium.” It’s a good thing I’m good looking, because sometimes I’m not very smart. I was only 300 miles from Philadelphia and the Liberty bell. Oh well. When people laugh at you because you do something foolish, laugh back at them. That way they’re laughing with you and not at you!!

The 4th, not just another Wednesday

There should be a law against the 4th of July on a Wednesday. It’s just not right. Anyway, Dino sent me a text asking if I wanted to go to a B-B-Q. Sure! It’s in Hollister (Hour drive south)? Sure, I’ll go! Should we take one vehicle or two? I’ll drive. You want to follow me or meet me there? Follow. I’ll be over in five minutes. Give me 20, my phone is dead, needs charging. They make car chargers!

Finally I called Dino. I had enough texting. If it’s going to be going more than two or three times please call me.

It was a good thing Dino came by. My battery was dead on the van. Someone played with the switches and opened the door an inch. I never asked Dino whose house we were going to. I didn’t realize it was the 4th. It shouldn’t be on a Wednesday, add the motor home still out of commission, so I did not make any plans. But I’ve got great friends that know I’ll go out at the drop of a hat.

I followed Dino to a farm in Hollister. The long drive was perfect for charging the battery. Usually every other year or every third year someone plays with the switches on the outside of the van that controls my wheelchair lift, which drains my battery. People don’t realize they’re not a toy and it leaves me stranded with a dead battery, but I could disable them with a key, so I can’t complain. I just carry jumper cables or call AAA. I learned a long time ago that if I’m going to get angry at something or someone, make it a good reason! Dino had me running in less then 5 minutes, so no big deal.

At the farm in Hollister I wasn’t completely on the ground out of the van when Bobby walked over. It was his parent’s farm. I met Bobby last year. I drove Dino, his family and friends to Reno to celebrate his birthday in the motor home. That trip was a lot of fun. So I now know four people, Dino, his twin children and Bobby. Dino’s twins are four(?) a boy, Dino, and a girl, Sadie. I too am a twin, and I also have a twin sister, Jean. We were born premature, seven months, and only weighed 3 plus pounds each. I guess I started off life as a survivor. It’s all I know how to be.

Since the temperature was in the 80’s, I wheeled over to the group of people sitting in the shade. It was the table with the adults. There I met Bobby’s parents, John and Sandra, very nice people. I wasn’t there for even a minute when they offered me food and a beverage. The world has good people in it and they’re not hard to find. I accepted the beverage, a ginger ale, ok ok ok. The great Mickey Redmond, a TV commentator for the Detroit Redwings, calls adult beverages (beer, drinks, etc) ginger ale. He doesn’t want to say the players are going to celebrate a win drinking booze on the air, so he’ll say they’ll go out and have a ginger ale, with a wink and a laugh. I met Mickey Redmond. When I first moved out to California, 1995, I didn’t know anyone. I moved out here by myself. That year the Detroit Redwings made it to the Stanly Cup finals. They lost to the New Jersey Devils. The next year, 1996, they set a record winning the most NHL hockey games in a single season, but only to lose to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference finals. But in 1997 and again in 1998, the last NHL hockey team to do it, won back to back Stanley Cups. Since I was new to California and to meet people, I’d take the light rail downtown to a sports bar call The Sports Page to watch the Detroit Redwing games. There I met Tom, Dave, Jack, his brother Matt, Liz and several others. They were my very first friends out here in California. When the Redwings were in town playing the home town San Jose Sharks, we’d all go to the games wearing our Detroit Redwing’s jerseys. After the games, we’d go to a bar called Katy Blooms(?) it was across the street from the Fairmont hotel where the Redwings stayed when they were in town. One night after a game, Mickey Redmond and a few others from the team came into the bar. We chatted the rest of the night, Mickey had just been to the Marquette area the week before, so he started calling me Harvey Michigan. It turns out we have several friends in common. He’s a really nice man. None better.

Tom just called, his ears must have been ringing. He’s looking for Liz’s number. She moved not long ago, so they must have lost touch. I miss the gang. Everyone except Jeff, who joined the gang later, moved away. We’d meet to watch Detroit Redwing games, especial near the playoffs and every playoff game, many times here at my apartment. I’m not the type to host gatherings, I’d much rather go to them, but the Redwing games were an exception. We’d watch maybe half the Redwing playoff games here at my apartment. Still do.

Some people are just easy to meet and talk too. John and everyone at his farm were these type of people. Within minutes we were all swapping stories. After an hour, without my asking, a cute college girl named Erica brought me a plate loaded with wonderful interesting foods. There was goat meat, sausage, salads, a shrimp gumbolaya? Etc. etc. ect. I love going to people’s B-B-Q’s. You get to eat wonderful foods that you don’t often, maybe never cook for yourself.  A little later Bobby took turkey right out of the smoker for us to eat. One of these days I’m going to invite myself back there for dinner it was that good.

As night begin to fall, they did something I never thought of doing. It was the 4th of July. What document was adopted or approved on that day on 1776?

The Declaration of Independence? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

On July 4th, 2012, for the time in my life, I gathered in a circle among friends and we took turns reading the Declaration of Independence. I’m 50 years old and I’ve done a lot in my life, but that was pretty cool. After the reading, we went in to the back yard and watched the fireworks. They were the type you can buy at the local store, so they never reached more then 20 or 30 feet in the air, but they were fun to watch as well mainly because of the crowd. A bunch of good people!!!!!!!

Thanks Dino, Bobby, John, Sandra and the rest for an enjoyable 4th of July. I’m a lucky man. Oh I enjoyed the goat milk you gave me. Thanks again.

Once bitten, twice shy

When your life has a drastic change, you quickly learn your weaknesses. The wife of a married couple for 30 years suddenly passes away. The husband quickly finds out he never had a clue to how the household actually operated. He may never have paid the monthly bills, shopped for food, clothing or Christmas presents? He may never have cooked a meal in his life. For me, it was how shy and insecure I really was. Even though I could meet people and talk with them, I was one of the boys at the school dances with my back up against the wall. I do remember dancing on two different occasions, but that wasn’t the norm. I guess working at my father’s construction company every day after school and 9 hours a day during the summer made it easy for me to hide it, or worse, not realize it was true. But when it became the norm that I didn’t know how to have conversations with my friends after I was in a wheelchair that it dawned on me things were now different, being shy and in a wheelchair sucked! Too often the conversations would last only a few minutes and then suddenly go quiet. We’d look at each other and not know what to say. Or they’d say something about hiking to the top of Sugarloaf or something similar then realize I can’t so they’d feel weird and stop talking. I knew it was up to me to change if I wanted to be happy. Being shy and in a wheelchair for the rest of my life was going to suck!

When you’re different then everyone else, you’re different. You’ve experienced it! You’ve been in a room full of people and felt completely alone.

I believe it was Saturday night, Halloween weekend 1982, that I was at home when my sister Jean and her boyfriend, (now husband) Tom stopped by the house. They asked me if I want to go to Danny Joe’s house (actually garage where he entertained)? I didn’t know Danny Joe and I was on a new medication that was causing stomach problems, so I said no. As luck would have it, Tom talked me into joining them. He told me that if I needed to come home because I wasn’t feeling well, he’d take me home, no problem.

At the Halloween party the first thing I learned was talking to a group of people was a lot easier than one on one. When the conversation ended with one person, you moved onto someone else. It sounds simple, but when you rarely left the house for the past couple of years, it was a breakthrough for me. The second thing was noticing that there were a few people that controlled most of the conversations. There were three types, the loud ones that made a lot of noise, the quiet ones that had something to say and the few that mostly listened but always said the right thing when needed. There was no one better at listening then saying the right thing to keeping conversations going, or change it when necessary at Danny Joe’s garage then Danny Joe himself.

It turned out Tom, Jean and I were some of the last to leave that Saturday night. While I only knew maybe 25% of the people there, most of the crowd knew me or of me. I come from a family of nine children. I love coming from Marquette, it was easy to know a lot of people. You often knew the entire family. Not just individuals. It brings up a problem I always had there. Everyone seemed to know me, but I didn’t always know them. To this day there are people there that I’ve known for 30 years that I never knew their names.

Before leaving Danny Joe’s that night, he told me he’s in his garage most days working on cars to stop by sometime. Danny Joe was a mechanic, so people would often stop by work on their cars or just talk. The next day, Sunday, I pulled into his driveway in my 1969 Pontiac GTO. A car I bought for $275. He was working on a carburetor or something at his work bench. I really liked Danny Joe, he stayed at his work bench and, although looking up from time to time, let me take my wheelchair out of the back seat of my car, unfold it then transfer into it – a process (back then) that took 2 to 5 minutes, or more. For the first several years, it was important to me that (even though I was at the limits of my abilities, everyday) my family and friends didn’t feel the need to help me every time I showed up. Independences was and is a driving force I’ve had for as long as I can remember – even before the accident.  I’m now 50 years old. I’m not stubborn like I was back then. I don’t turn down everyone’s help. I proved to everyone, especially myself for a long time that I can do it on my own.

Some people are natural teachers or role models. Danny Joe was that to me. I’d spend a few afternoons every week at his garage. There I watched him deal with all the different personalities’ types that stopped by to hang out. It’s a skill that not everyone has. The best part of it was he knew what I was doing. Every once in a while when I’d have a puzzled look he’d actually explain why he said or did something or he’d point out important things. Watching him was fun. Probably the most important thing I learnt from him was to pay attention and listen to ”what” people are saying. You’d be amazed how many people don’t have a clue to what’s going on in their own lives, let lone the town, country or the world. Some people are not very smart while others are too smart. Talking with each is going to be different. The second thing I learnt from Danny Joe was everything has consciousness. Be careful what you say and to whom. My writing these blogs are going to have consciousness. Not all of them are going to be good. The third thing I learnt was ‘’don’t be in a hurry’’. Sit back, listen to others talk and enjoy life. The best way to do that is to ask them a question and that’s where the paying attention comes in. If you ask the right question, you can sit back, relax and enjoy your ”ginger ale” while someone else talks all day. While I do listen a lot more often then some people think, I now tend to be a talker as well.  The other great thing about Danny Joe’s garage was it was a great place to broaden my social contacts. When you don’t leave your house for a couple of years, you lose track of everything and everyone. A few years after I met Danny Joe, he moved to Florida. The last time I seen him was in 1994. He offered me a room in his house if I wanted to move to Florida. I hope you’re doing well Joe.

The first few years of leaving the house I did a lot more listening then talking. I didn’t just study Danny Joe, but others as well. another important observation I learned was to make eye contact. Look people in the eyes and say hi. It sounds simple, but so many people don’t do it especially in bigger cities. This is one area where being in a wheelchair makes life easier. Men don’t think you’re looking for a fight and women don’t think all you want to do is get into their pants. Some of them are right!