The Art of Movement

You could say that these guys do dangerous things in dangerous places, and they do. You could say they are trespassers, and they probably are. You could say they are vandals. Eh. Although I do suspect that things get broken, aside from their bones, I wouldn’t necessarily call them vandals. Skaters and borders who deface buildings by intentionally scraping their wheels and boards against them are vandals. On the whole, I think it’s fair to say that free runners may be careless, or thoughtless, but most of them aren’t vandals.

Think of them what you will, but you have to admire their ability. It takes great discipline of body and mind to accomplish such feats. One must have physical strength and mental precision to put their feet right where they want to after tumbling and twisting in the air. They jump high, they jump far, and they fall farther than I would want to climb down a ladder.

I was never really this athletic. I was first chair trumpet, first chair baritone, and first chair French horn. I could run the bases in PE and lift weights and climb the hill at the academy. But never anything on the order of parkour.

There should be a free running sport at the Olympics.

dictionaryparkourHow many different math and science disciplines are they exercising without even knowing it? I’m sure they don’t sit stare at a group of buildings trying to figure out the squared hypotenuse of the radiant triangular degree of axial momentum. Or whatever. They see some buildings and surrounding features and just decide they want to jump it.

But what do you do to prepare yourself? How do you train for something like this? How many bruises and broken bones does one have to suffer?

I’m sure that they don’t start out on the high buildings, but even jumping from one cinderblock to another has the opportunity for a broken ankle or twisted knee. At what point do you develop the confidence and courage to jump, roll, twist, fall, and turn a hundred feet up or more.

There are videos of parkour fails. I don’t have the heart to watch those. As stupid as some people seem, although it appears that they deserve whatever is coming to them,  and as funny as they may be, I’m not into watching peoples’ pratfalls.  I’m sure they depict just how difficult practicing this sport is, just how dangerous it can be.

I called it a sport. It may be unorthodox, unorganized, and unsanctioned, but by any standard of definition, parkour qualifies.

stonedIt would be tough to be a stoner or a meth-head and still be able to perform like this. The mind has to be clear and sharp to do the gozillion calculations per nanosecond that it takes to successfully pull something like this off. Not that it would be impossible, but you can see where it would really inhibit performance.

I’m glad this wasn’t a thing when I was chasing bad guys all over town. I’ve been on a few rooftops (maybe I’ll tell you about them sometime), but I’ve never run into anything on this scale. I could hop a fence with the best of them, but wearing a bulletproof vest, boots, and I don’t know how many pounds of equipment around my waist, anything more would have been miraculous. I can tell you right now, they’d have gotten away.

You may think they’re hooligans. Some of them may be, but I admire their talent.




Islands in the Field

I was cruising around WordPress and came across this picture at Netdancer’s blog. It reminded me of a place a long time ago in a neighborhood far, far away. I’m not even sure how old I was.  I was old enough to run around the neighborhood with my friends until the sun went down, but young enough to lack the wisdom of age and experience to not drink from the nearest hose in anyone’s yard when I was thirsty.

The reason this picture reminds me of that place is because at the end of my street there was a T intersection that bordered a corn field. In the middle of that field was an island just like this one. That island was our base of operations during the winter months. After Christmas, we would gather Christmas trees from nearby houses after they were taken outside to be picked up by the garbage collectors and drag them to this island where we erected a fort. From there we launched into all kinds of adventures. Sometimes we had to infiltrate an enemy’s stronghold. Sometimes we had to hunt down a bank robber. Sometimes it was just a matter of survival. We had crackers, Pop-Tarts, and canteens of water. The first one to bail was a sissy.

As you enter the field from my street, to the right, at the edge of the corn field, was a forest. I couldn’t begin to count the hours we spent exploring the vast woodlands. There was a small stream, possums and woodpeckers, snakes and bugs, flowers and trees, Mushrooms and moss, and rich, loamy soil. It was the kind of place that you wanted to get lost in. It was peaceful, calm, and quiet. We fought wars there, hunted for buried treasure, and solved some of life’s biggest problems under the canopy of leaves that rose so high overhead that we couldn’t see the tops.

Between my street and the cornfield was a thicket of wild raspberries and blackberries. I remember taking large butter tubs and filling them full of berries when they were in season.

I remember the name of my friend, Jeff Demorest. My brother, 18 months older than I am, hung out with us often. Besides the cornfield and woods, Jeff lived on a slope, which was perfect for sledding in the winter time. We also used his garage for our hundreds of army men. We each took one of the four large concrete squares, set up our armies, and fought it out. When it rained, we collected rain water. We played baseball, had snowball fights, and just ran around and had fun.

It was a magical time in my itinerant life.

My father was upper management at the Dana plant in Ecorse, Michigan. They made steel frames for GM cars. When I was only a few years old, right around 1970, they had massive layoffs, which included my father. I was too young to remember the intervening time between when he was laid off and when he started his next job. All I remember is that he went into real estate. So did my mother.

We moved. A lot. We lived, in no particular order, in Taylor, South Lyon, South Gate, Trenton, Allen Park, Novi (twice), Lincoln Park, Sterling Heights, and I’m probably forgetting one or two.

My dad had a private pilot’s license and flew out of Grosse Isle. There was a golf  course there where my brother was a caddy.

Those were years of feast or famine. I remember living in a three level house with a finished basement, a large, two car garage, and my brother and I each a balcony outside our rooms. I also remember getting IOUs for Christmas one year and my mother crying as we opened the envelopes.

I also made a lot of money when I was a kid. I cut grass in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and shoveled snow in the winter. My best friend in Trenton was Paul Mithoff. We had regular customers we went to every season and we were paid well. Some of them had hot chocolate for us.

I wish I had known about Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Berkshire Hathaway . . . .

He lived on Kenwood Drive. We had a gang. We called ourselves “The Kenwood Killers.”

We played Monopoly using two boards, and we made deals in the tens of thousands. We had to make our own large bills. We played Risk and added continents, airplanes, and ships. Games of Monopoly and Risk would last for days.

We had beer can collections. Some of my cans were worth $30 or $40. We had fish tanks and spent a lot of time at the Day One Tropical Fish Store. It was a pleasant bike ride over a brick paved bridge. They’re still in business after almost 50 years. I bred angel fish. When they were about the size of a half-dollar, I would trade them to Day One for plants or a couple of fish. Just before we moved, my kribensis started laying eggs. I was looking forward to raising those beautiful fish. The memories of setting up an aquarium and caring for tropical fish have stayed with me. Shortly after I was married I set up a 55 gallon tank that was probably the most beautiful I’d ever done.

Of all the places we lived in Michigan, Trenton and Novi hold the best memories. I had a pleasant childhood. It wasn’t full of drama. Compared to kids these days, it was pretty mundane.

I never had a lot of friends. I always only had one or two, but they were very strong. And I was okay with that. I can’t think of anything I would change, could I travel back in time and do so. Those experiences made me who I am today. It wasn’t all wine and roses. There were some hard times, but I don’t focus on those. They’re there, but they’re tucked away in a little room that I keep locked and only open to jam something else into it and quickly shut the door again. But I wouldn’t change anything.

I think Captain James T. Kirk said it best. “Bones, you’re a doctor. You of all people should know that guilt and pain can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I want my pain! I need my pain!”

The joys and pains we experience form our opinions and shape our philosophy. They color our vision and give us a perspective that is unique to each of us as individuals. They influence our personality and prejudices. They motivate us to reach for the next level and make us want to be a better person. They make us interesting and give us depth. They make us stronger and more empathetic. They make us care. They make us love.

They give us life.



Living With Fear

I saw a writing prompt today that urged people to write about what they fear most. That got me to thinking. There are moments when I have felt fear. Like having no gas and being on a causeway that’s miles long with no gas station on the other side. I was a little anxious until I got turned around and back on the right side. I don’t know if you’d really call that fear, but I certainly felt a lot of anxiety. Or when I stopped a car and while I was writing a ticket, large rocks were coming over a fence and hitting my patrol car. Or when I asked a guy for his registration and as he’s leaning across the seat, I see the butt end of a shotgun within easy reach.

There are times when I’ve been afraid. But I made it through all of them.

There was a story on the news several months ago that was extolling the bravery of a certain man in the face of an uncertain future, especially his immediate existence. My wife commented that he didn’t look brave, he looked afraid. And he did. Anyone with a lick of sense would have been. But I told her that the only time you can truly be brave is when your ARE afraid.

Fear is a basic instinct that is felt by almost all living creatures. It is a primary mode of survival. It tells you that something is wrong, that there is danger, that all is not right with the world. It triggers the “fight or flight” response.

There are some things, though, that you can neither fight nor flee away from. Some things that happen that are so immediate that you have absolutely no time to respond in anything but horror. I’m sure the people in the Twin Towers in New York felt that type of fear when they saw those jets flying straight for them. Nothing they could do would save them, short of Devine intervention. Where could they have run to? What was there to fight?

Some people are afraid of death, others are not. It’s perfectly rational. There is a genuine fear of the unknown, death being the ultimate unknown. Some are just afraid of the dying process. Still others are fearless about death, believing that what’s on the other side far surpasses anything that we have here in this existence, or that they will simply cease to exist.

People in the US Military are truly brave, to me. They face the possibility of coming to a sunned and extremely violent end for as long as  they’re deployed. In a hostile country, or even friendly one with hostiles in it, they’re in danger. Hell, right here in the good ole U S of A they face that possibility. Fort Hood Shooting.


My fear is a bit less tangible. I fear the day that may come when I would be unable to provide for myself and my family. That came about in a very real way a couple of months ago.

About six years ago, after a couple of years seeing three neurologists, one of them being a movement disorder specialist, two sleep deprived EEGs, two MRIs, and trial and error guesses on drugs to stop my erratic movements and sudden falling, my wife told me she was sending me to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. Okay, the clinic is in Scottsdale, but the hospital is in Phoenix. I became well acquainted with both and how to get back and forth, which there was a lot of doing. I sat with Dr. John Caviness for 15 minutes and he said that my problem wasn’t myoclonus, but chorea.

My first thought was Huntington’s Disease. My wife’s cousin had that and eventually succumbed to it. It wasn’t comforting to hear. But I wasn’t afraid. Not yet.

I started the whole round of tests all over again, this time it included 18 vials of blood. After 12 vials, the vein in my left arm collapsed. Bless the vampire’s heart, she kept trying until I convinced her to switch arms.

Three days later the doctor told me that I didn’t have Huntington’s, that my chorea was idiopathic. They had no idea what was causing it. But they prescribed tetrabenazine, something prescribed for Huntington’s patients, anyway to see if it would help. He added amantadine, and to help boost my appetite, mirtazapine.

It worked very well, and I’m still on the medication.

Back to the present day. The past few years I’ve had increasing difficulty speaking. I occasionally sounded like a blubbering idiot. It got so bad within the last four years, just before I promoted, that it was affecting my job. A few months ago, my local neurologist slowly upped my tetrabenazine. After two days of barely increasing the dose, I felt like I was going blind. I couldn’t stand light of any intensity. Even looking at my cell phone with the screen as dark as the setting would allow it to go was a new adventure in pain. I could almost watch the television if I wore my darkest sunglasses.

I sat in a dark room for almost three days. I couldn’t go to work.

That’s when I discovered what my biggest fear was. I could lose my job. Sure, I could take a medical or disability retirement, but it would be substantially less than a regular retirement, and a whole lot less than I was making. We had to shut down the school a few years ago and were living on half of what we had been making. If I didn’t have the use of my eyes, what could I possibly do to support us? My wife was caring for her mother, who is well into her 80s. There’s always someone at the house; we can’t leave her alone at all.

It took two days to figure out what was causing it. I saw the ophthalmologist. That was the only thing that had changed in the last week. I don’t suffer from allergies. He told me that it could take up to six months to clear up, if it was going to. He was a smart guy, but this particular problem was new to him.

My neurologist told me to stay off the medication to see what happens. I was already doing that.

It took a few days, but things eventually got better. I’m back on my regular dose with no side effects. They’re still trying to figure that one out.

That particular crisis is over. The speech problems remain, however, and its intensity comes and goes, but the possibility that something could happen before I can hit full retirement age is ever present. God has always taken care of us, and I believe that He will continue to do so, but the fear of the uncertainty of the future and the unknown still trails along in my shadow.

Fear is not always physical, or even tangible. People have, what we call, irrational fears. We call them that because their fears don’t make any sense to us, but to those suffering from them, they are very real. They affect them physically and emotionally and sometimes cripples them to a point where they can’t even function.

Psychologists have ways of helping people overcome their fears. The only way they can do that is to confront them and learn that they can overcome them without being harmed. I would call these people brave.

As it often turns out, when we face our fears and fight through what they would do to us, we find out that things are not as bad as we through that they would be. We feel victorious and empowered, ready to look straight into the eyes of the next adversary with confident resolve in the outcome.

But sometimes, as life happens, things don’t go so well. Maybe the results dwarf our worst fears. You don’t know what to do, where to go, or who to turn to. Your fear is increased by an order of magnitude. Your next obstacle is greater than the last. You cannot run away from it and you are forced stand and fight. You have no choice but to be brave. That is when you will realize the true strength that lies within you.