Friday, November 2, 2007

Lost in Time

©2007 by LeeZard

Somewhere, In the Middle of Nowhere, Washington - That's where I found this farm.

It is on a lonely two-lane blacktop running 30 miles east from Yakima, WA to the northern end of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Just outside of Yakima, the road takes you through vineyards and hops farms but slowly gives way to mile after mile of empty rolling grassland, and then - The Farm.

What's so special about this place? Not only is it lonely, it is eerie and abandoned. I'm guessing it's been abandoned for at least 50 years. I base this estimate on the age of the rusted out vehicles sitting there with only sagebrush and tumbleweed for passengers.

It seems as if the people living and working here just walked away, leaving their life as a monument to days long gone. As the years have rolled by, modern times - and sentiments- have overtaken history.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Friend of Bill

©2007 by LeeZard

I am a walking, talking miracle. By the end of 1997, I was clinically depressed, stuffing more than 220 pounds onto a frame built for 175, struggling to breathe when I walked up a short flight of stairs and suffering intermittent internal bleeding. At 51, I was virtually unemployable and emotionally alienated from my family and friends. I was a late stage alcoholic.

Had I continued down that path I certainly would have died a lonely and ugly death if I didn’t kill myself (and/or someone else) first while driving drunk. I would’ve been in and out of jails, hospitals and perhaps a mental institution or two. Instead, I decided I couldn’t live that way anymore. I also knew I couldn’t stop drinking on my own so I turned to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. That was the beginning of my miracle.

I’ve been sober since June 10, 1998. I weigh 190 pounds, power walk 3-5 miles nearly every day, have a challenging and well-paying job and an overall sense of peace and gratitude.

Fear not, this isn’t a commercial for Alcoholics Anonymous. Frankly, AA is not for everyone. But, through my recovery I have learned a lot about the disease of alcoholism and the insidious ways in which it ripples through our entire society. It’s a “cunning, baffling and powerful disease” that only gets worse – never better – even if you stop drinking. Denial is one of its symptoms. It is the only disease that tells you you’re not sick.

Alcoholism is an allergy of the body that becomes an obsession of the mind. Those afflicted physically process alcohol differently than normal drinkers. Contrary to myth, it is not necessarily how often one drinks that defines him/her as an alcoholic but what happens once he/she starts. It begins with an uncontrollable craving, an obsession that can supersede everything else. And, as the disease progresses, bad things start to happen.

Part of recovery in AA is “carrying the message to those who still suffer;” by helping other alcoholics. One way I do this is by being very open about my alcoholism and recovery. I regularly mention it in conversations when I feel it is appropriate and I am amazed by the number of people who ask questions – either for themselves, a friend or a family member. I’ve helped many sufferers into recovery.

What hit me hardest as I learned more and more about the disease is the number of young people – young adults, teens and even pre-teens – I see at AA meetings. I think that is good and bad – bad that the disease is so rampant in our young people, good that so many of them are finding “the solution” early in the disease’s progression.

I remember a middle school class I visited to talk about alcoholism in which the teacher said 75% of the kids had already sampled drugs and/or alcohol. One colleague at work came to me after his 15-year old daughter nearly died from alcohol poisoning and a .40 blood alcohol count (.08 is legally drunk in my state). I was able to hook the girl up with some young women in AA and talked to her parents about AA’s companion family program, Al-anon.

So, what can we do about underage alcohol consumption? I’m not sure there’s a total answer to that question but the consequences are unthinkable nonetheless; the tragedy of extinguished young lives and the shattering of families. But I do think we can simplify our approach and, hopefully, minimize the consequences.

Most kids are going to drink before they legally come of age. I think we have to accept that as fact; the peer pressure is enormous. There’s binge drinking at parties, alcohol poisoning, drunk driving and other incidents – all with potentially fatal outcomes. Alcohol is the most prevalent drug available to teens, the easiest to obtain and, in my view, the most dangerous.

Take my kids for example. They are two amazing young adults (for which I can only take little credit) who usually make good choices. My son – a former frat boy and now a gainfully employed college grad – regularly imbibed before his 21st birthday. Do you think if I told him he was forbidden to drink, he would’ve obeyed that command? Unlikely. I know for a fact the (former) Teen Queen, now a law student, also partook of the grape and beer.

Their mom and I tried to take a more realistic approach. As our kids neared high school age, we told them we’d prefer they NOT drink. More importantly, though, we demanded they agree not to drive while impaired and to never get into a vehicle with an impaired driver. I know these edicts are just as unenforceable as the no drinking command but we also offered a carrot. We told them if they found themselves stranded because of alcohol to call us no matter what time of day or night and we would pick them up with no consequences. Further, we insisted they keep us well informed about their social plans and destinations and let us know if those plans changed.

As long as they followed these rules, we allowed them a decent amount of freedom. I’m relieved to say that I never had to “ground” one of my kids and, along the way, we built mutual trust. More importantly, they survived their teen years without any serious alcohol or drug-related incidents. Tragically, many parents are not as fortunate.

Some might argue this approach is the same as giving the kids permission to drink. Maybe so, but for me, the bottom line was to minimize the dangers to my children. I could only hope I provided them with enough information about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs so they can continue to make good decisions.

The other side of this equation is the potential for alcoholism. More and more young people are ending up in treatment centers and, ultimately, Alcoholics Anonymous which is, by far, the most successful recovery program. AA is not the stereotypical haven for graying, grizzled late-stage stumbling street bums; it never was. Today, more and more young people are sitting at AA meetings. It is heartening to know these youngsters can begin recovery before suffering the tragic consequences of late-stage alcoholism. It also is heartbreaking to see these babies caught in the web of addiction.

So, back to my question: What can we do about underage alcohol consumption? Maybe there are some answers even if there are no clear-cut solutions:
· Shower the young’ uns with love and information;
· Help them stay away from the most dangerous situations;
· Let them know you trust them to make good choices and you will be a safe haven for them if they make a wrong choice;
· And, pray they don’t fall victim to someone else’s bad decisions.

If you add it all up, the costs of alcoholism and the abuse of other drugs are staggering. There is not enough space here to write about time and productivity lost at work, the medical costs and other impacts on our health care and judicial systems, not to mention the destroyed families and relationships.

So why do I say a 12-step program isn’t for everyone? An alcoholic has to hit absolute bottom and then, he or she must be willing to go to any length to achieve sobriety. AA is not for those who need it, it is for those who want it.

AA may not be for everyone but if you want to know more it is listed in virtually every phone book or you can “Google” your local AA office. And, I must say, I am honored to call myself “a friend” of AA’s founder, Bill W. His pioneering work in 1935 with co-founder Dr. Bob has given me a life I never imagined possible – a life that is, in every way, a miracle.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Blue Streak

Sometimes, words appear in my head in rhythm and/or rhyme. I'm not sure why; I'm not a big fan of poetry. Go figure.

Someone told me a long time ago that a lot of my poems seemed like song lyrics. So, recently, I've been writing with that in mind. I have no musical talent whatsoever but, the following would probably make a good Rock & Roll tune.

©2007 by LeeZard

Blue Streak, Blue Streak,
I’m ridin’ in the Blue Streak.
Flyin’ down the Interstate,
Top down, feelin’ great.

She’s a low slung mean machine,
Drive ‘er fast, keep ‘er clean.
Tap the brake, make the scene,
Hit the curve, she won’t lean.

She was on Ebay,
That’s the way you buy today.
Low miles, high style,
Punch it down, eat the miles.

Blue Streak, Blue Streak,
I’m ridin’ in the Blue Streak.
Flyin’ down the interstate,
Top down, feelin’ great.

Fat tires, leather seats,
Jump on in, have a treat.
Ain’t no Beemer, ain’t no ‘Vette,
Ain’t no car that’s beat her yet.

Never thought I’d own this ride,
Never thought I’d get inside.
Hit bottom, got clean,
Life’s good, got the dream.

Blue Streak, Blue Streak,
I’m ridin’ in the Blue Streak.
Flyin’ down the Interstate,
Top down, feelin’ great.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

California Fires

I spent four days in Southern California at the height of the wild fires. It was both tragic and awesome.

The night and day fire shots were taken along I-5 near Camp Pendleton. The flames were creeping right down to the freeway. You could toast marshmallows.

The smoke diminished the region's already questionable air quality. It also created an orange-tinged haze that filtered each dawn and dusk, adding to the other-worldly feel of the entire situation.

The family shot represents the more than 10,000 evacuees who "camped out" at Qualcomm Stadium. These were the folks who either didn't have insurance or, whose insurance did not cover emergency living expenses. It was a very sad scene.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fenway At Last

Copyright 2007 by LeeZard

I know I'm not the first writer to be inspired by a visit to Boston's fabled Fenway Park, but I must tell you about my recent pilgrimage to that ancient ballyard. Even I was surprised at my emotional response.

I grew up in New York City. Yankee Stadium, with its huge crowds and vast outfield, was where I learned to love the game. For some reason though, I never had the opportunity to visit Beantown so I used the excuse of a recent business convention in Boston to visit Fenway. It didn't matter that I've always hated the Red Sox; as a baseball fan, I've always respected their great players. And, I wanted to see the stadium before its renovation.

Even though the team was on the road, I was told if you're lucky, you can talk the security guard at the service gate into letting you in for a peek. It would have been nice to see a game, but I wanted to see Fenway--to worship at the shrine of that storied leftfield wall, "The Green Monster," and to soak up all those years of baseball history. Of course, I had to find the place first.

Have you ever asked a Bostonian for directions? Famed for their spare use of the English language, getting a Yankee (New England, not New York) to help you find someplace is an adventure. For one thing, you need an interpreter.

I asked four different people how to get to Fenway by subway and received four different sets of directions. The first failed to mention that I had to change trains. Another gave directions in such thick Bostonese that I simply nodded politely and tried to read the subway wall map to figure out what he said. It's not that the people of Boston are rude, or unwilling to help, it's just that they hate to waste words the way Scrooge hated to spend a dollar.

Finally, standing in Kenmore Station, with nary a sign indicating that this was, indeed, the stop for Fenway Park, I asked for directions once more. This time, swallowing the feelings of foolishness that come with being a lost out-of-towner, I asked for a repeat of the directions three times. Still, the only thing I caught was, "turn left and it's this big green thing." After some aimless wandering I finally found it and, yes, it is a big green thing and, from the outside, it is an ugly big green thing.

The stadium is bordered on one side by Lansdowne Street. It is a littered, downtrodden little side street. Hardly the stuff of boyhood baseball dreams. I walked around to Yawkey Way where the main and service entrances are located. Luckily the service garage-type door was open, so I puffed up my confidence and approached the stern looking white-haired security guard sitting in a small shack just inside the entrance.

"Hi. I just traveled more than 3,000 miles to see Fenway Park-you gotta let me in." He looked me up and down with a practiced eye that said I've heard this a zillion times before.

"We don't nawmally let people in," he said slowly, dragging out the “naw” in nawmally. He looked me over again while he considered my worthiness. But the baseball gods were smiling on me that day because finally he jerked his head toward the field and snapped, "go up that ramp; don't turn left; don't turn right; don't stay long."

I was in--and they would have to pick me up and throw me out before I had my fill. I thought as I walked up the ramp that I'd be standing somewhere in the outfield but to my utter surprise and delight, there I was just 20 rows behind home plate. I didn't turn left and I didn't turn right; I just stood there and let the magic of Fenway take over.

At first, Fenway Park feels and looks amazingly small. Heck, it is small--often referred to as a bandbox because of its 33,502 capacity and the fans' intimate seating relationship with the playing field. That intimacy creates an optical illusion; at first it doesn't look big enough to be a major league ballpark. But then, the immensity of Fenway starts to sink in-the immensity that is its history.

After a few minutes I broke the security guard's rules. I turned right and sat down halfway up the first base line to take it all in--the asymmetrical, quirky angles in the outfield, the old hand-operated scoreboard and that famous left field wall which is much larger (37 feet high, stretching from the foul pole to left-center field) than it looks on TV.

I closed my eyes to smell the grass (baseball field grass seems to have an aroma all of its own) and commune with the ghosts of Fenway. When I opened my eyes the stands were full and there was the Johnny Pesky loping around the bases after wrapping one around “The Pesky Pole,” Dom DiMaggio legging out a double, Ted Williams, "The Splendid Splinter," swinging his remarkably fluid swing and Yaz patrolling the outfield. It was hauntingly quiet and beautiful and my young boy's baseball heart filled with joy.

It was at this moment of supreme pleasure that the security guard ambled up the ramp, looking left and looking right as if he knew I'd broken his edict. He spotted me and his sharp words pierced my reverie, "Ya gotta go soon." I sat a few moments more, enjoying the look and feel of this hallowed piece of baseball ground.

As I walked out the gate, my good-bye wave and thanks to the guard were met by a stony silence and I heard the metal garage door begin to rumble down behind me. Suddenly, a figure darted across the street and ducked under the closing door. I walked back to

"Say, I just flew in from Denver and I've got to see Fenway Park." I didn't hear the response, but a downtrodden and disappointed Denverite quickly emerged as the garage door
completed its downward journey.

I smiled a warm inward smile at my good fortune and felt only a small twinge of sympathy for the spurned Fenway pilgrim from Denver. Feeling rather smug and eschewing the subway, I walked all the way back to my hotel. Somewhere, someone started whistling "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It was me.