Stick together

Friends are a prized commodity these days.

I’m not talking about Facebook friends, or the casual acquaintances you make in your daily life. I’m talking about ones like those referenced in the old joke, that a friend will help you move but a true friend will help you move the body.

I have friends here where I live, but many of my closest friends — the ones from college or even before — are scattered all over the country. We don’t talk as often as we’d like, and we rarely get to see each other, but I know that if I need one of them I can call on them and they’ll be there.

Considering what’s transpired this year — and it’s been a pretty crappy year in a lot of ways — I’ve called on them more than I’d care to admit. I’ve also worked harder to cultivate relationships with people here, trying to spend more time with friends closer to home now that I don’t have nearly as many nights taken up with work.

While it’s been nice to get to know some people better and get to hang out with people I haven’t seen in awhile — not to mention try some new things — I’ve also discovered a few people I thought were close friends apparently aren’t, at least not any longer.

But that’s a small negative, and I choose to dwell on the positives. I do my best to make sure my friends know that I’m there for them if they need anything, and hope they would do the same for me. While it doesn’t result in invitations to a lot of parties, I think I’ve found a good group of people who care about me the way I care about them.

I spent too many years suffering from debilitating shyness, and though it still hits me from time to time I’ve decided I can’t afford to sit around hoping people know how I feel about them. Friends don’t just show up — they’re cultivated over time, through relationships built on trust, mutual respect and reliability.

Other people are going through things just like I am — sometimes worse — and we have to stick together so we can both get through it. That’s what friends do, help each other.

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It’s a wonderful life

It wasn’t the plan to spend all day watching Christmas specials and movies, though there were one or two I did intend to catch. But with the missus still feeling the after-effects of two days of stomach pains and other issues, she just wasn’t up to going to the family gathering.

And when you’re not feeling your best, you can often find yourself plopped down in front of the TV. I kept Tina company so we could spend time together. Thus we ended up catching bits and pieces of the marathon items like “A Christmas Story” and “The Princess Bride” that were running on TV, capped the night with the new Doctor Who Christmas special, and in between picked out the following Christmas items:

  • A Christmas Carol (1984)
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Amends”
  • Warehouse 13, “Secret Santa”
  • Eureka, “O Little Town”

Some will see this list as Christmas movies followed by some oddball sci-fi TV. But A Christmas Carol (and the Muppet version) both feature ghosts, not to mention visits to the past, other present and future. Why is watching a sci-fi show using some of the same tropes (or others of their own devising or borrowed from other sources) any different?

If you haven’t seen any of the above, give ’em a shot. You might find out you like it. That’s what I did this year with It’s A Wonderful Life, which played on the big screen nearby on Christmas Eve. I’d never seen it before, and couldn’t resist the idea of going to the theater for my first viewing. I enjoyed it, and will look forward to catching it next holiday season.

We didn’t get to spend the day with family except for each other, but it was still an enjoyable day. And that’s really the key, finding a way to make every day enjoyable despite the circumstances.

No time this time

I probably could have written this post earlier, but put it off as usual and I’m now trying to quickly bang out something for the record after a long day today and with another long day ahead tomorrow.

Sundays end up being long days because I’m in a bowling league that competes Sunday mornings. If you’re wondering why a sane person would do such a thing, a) maybe I’m not that sane, but b) when I joined the league some 14 years ago I had just started working at the paper as a sportswriter.

When you work as a sportswriter, the one thing that you’re sure of is that you’re rarely sure of your schedule. It changes week to week, season to season to fit the immediate needs of the sport or department. The one time you’re pretty much guaranteed not to have something to do is Sunday (lots of nights and weekends in sports), so that was the obvious time to do something if I was going to.

I enjoy it, I’ve gotten pretty good (today’s results notwithstanding) and it keeps me active even when I’m pretty much not otherwise. So I do it, sacrifice some sleep since I can rarely get to bed early and get up at 7 am.

I’ll be traveling to visit a friend tomorrow and likely won’t be posting anything unless something really amazing happens, and even then I’d probably save it for Tuesday. I’d write more, but with another early wake-up call in the morning I really have no time this time.

Let’s begin again

Friday marked the start of a new scholastic sports season, and with it being the winter that meant it was the 12th season that I would be heading out on Opening Day to cover a girls basketball game. The lateness of the day getting my story done and online was part of the reason why I didn’t post anything that day.

There’s a reason there is such a thing as Season Affective Disorder, which can sometimes be known as winter blues or winter depression, and I think winter sports and covering them help illustrate it pretty well.

You’ve been outside covering fall sports like football or soccer, with those seasons starting generally in warm weather with shorts and hopefully sunny skies. You’ve watched the games move earlier to accommodate the changing time of sunset, started wearing a coat. You’ve bundled up for the playoffs, watched the skies go gray and then black even earlier and doing your best to brace against the win. You’ve prayed for games to be played in stadia with press boxes.

But now after the briefest of breaks, you’re now beginning a sport where you know you’re going to be trapped in a high school gymnasium for the next three months. There’s good reason for it too, because you pretty much don’t want to be outside anyway. It begins right around the time of the shortest day of the year, and it’s a given you’ll be driving home in the dark (and could be heading to your game in the dark as well since more and more begin at 5:30 or 7 pm).

It’s why I’m so glad that after so many years of covering the sport, that I have so many friends among coaches, reporters, game workers (scorekeepers, clock operators, even officials), fans and players. It makes the season easier to deal with, as does the enjoyment of the sport.

I’m not one who can in August immediately recall any fact from girls basketball or girls soccer season, because they were months before. But once I’m in the gym, writing down the lineups as the players are warming up and I chat with reporters from other outlets, I can quickly feel in my element again.

So while winter is my least favorite season of the year, it isn’t because of the sport I cover and the people involved. They actually make it enjoyable, and when Friday rolled around I was ready to begin again.

Back in the chair

I gave up long ago on the notion that I could fool anyone into thinking I had a head of hair.

It started thinning on top while I was still in college, which I suppose I always knew was a possibility because my dad’s hair had been thinning since I was a kid but he’d maintained a solid widow’s peak that only looked silly when he tried to make it look fuller than it was (good God, why didn’t anyone talk him out of the perm idea in the 80s)?

But I’d always been blessed as a kid with a lot of hair, and a huge cowlick that stood up no matter how much hair I kept or how much hair spray I used to try and keep it down (I apologize now for my contributions to the ozone issues back in the day).

So when the hair began disappearing rather quickly, I tried some of the usual ways to conceal it — the combover (which I did actually maintain for about a decade; just check out my wedding pics) and in the early days what would likely best be described as a mullet as I vainly tried to grow it in back to take attention from other areas. There was definitely a party in the back, but it was tightly contained as it only seemed to bring out the curliest features of my locks and never even got fully to my shoulders.

Point is, several years ago I decided I was just surrendering. I was tired of the little hair I did have on the back and sides not doing what I wanted and fairly constantly having to be trimmed, and when I got married we moved some half an hour from the barber I’d been using and didn’t feel much like finding a new one.

So I bought a trimmer with an instructional DVD, my wife dutifully watched it and began trimming my hair when it was convenient for the both of us. She was kind enough to do it, which saved me the trip to the barber and the money I would have paid, and within a few cuts it had already paid for itself in barber savings.

I think subconsciously part of the reason as well was that the barber shop was a specific place to me that I had attachments to. I went to one barber my whole life until college, the same barber my dad had used for years before I was born (actually a pair of barbers who co-owned the business). I drifted through chain stores for awhile, never feeling really comfortable, then decided to renew my quest to recapture that feeling when I arrived in South Jersey.

After awhile, I found a place that reminded me of the one I’d been to growing up — lots of wood including the paneling, big mirrors, the jar of blue liquid with combs in it, the old leather barbers chairs, the old-fashioned cash register.

Most importantly I built relationships with the barbers there. For a time I did continue to drive there after moving just because we’d talk about local sports (I was a sports reporter by that time) or some other topic during the cut, just as the barbers had done with me when I was a kid with my dad.

The barber is someone who’s touching your head all over, working with your hair and developing what can be a rather unique relationship that is tough to duplicate. It’s something I did find again in New Jersey, but distance and expense for something that was increasingly frustrating for me simply made it untenable.

In the past few months I’d taken to shaving my head weekly with my electric razor, a wet/dry model that allowed me to use shaving cream and get a little closer and not even think about needing a brush or any other hair implement again. It takes time, but I decided it was worth it and I didn’t have to bother the missus with it. I could do it on my own time.

Thursday I was starting to feel better after my nasty cold that developed Sunday and Monday (hooray, Z-pak!), and began to venture out into the world. I realized I hadn’t shaved my head in a couple of weeks and wanted the hair gone (when you get into the habit of shaving your head and then don’t for awhile, the hair grows back however it wants which isn’t always the way it looks best).

A couple of months ago I met someone through playing Quizzo with a friend (which will be a topic for a future blog post) who just happened to around the same time find a job at a neighborhood barber shop just a few minutes from my house. We’d chatted briefly about the potential for shaving my head, so I messaged him to make sure he was working and he told me he’d shave my head if I bought the razors (he uses Bic disposables and was out).

When I arrived, it was even more neighborhood than I expected, a cozy place at the end of a block of almost rowhome-type residences complete with a barber pole out front. I went inside, took off my coat, sat down in the chair and between the wood paneling, mirrors and old brown leather chair it was like both going back in time and reuniting with an old friend.

I got a nice shave (of my head) after a trim first, chatted about various things, and generally felt good about paying for it afterward. I was paying for the experience as much as the cut itself. It’s not something I’m going to do on a regular basis (can’t afford to, especially now), but it’s something I’ll very likely do again.

Whole day off

Because I’m trying to kick this cold that’s been kicking my ass the past day or two so I can be close to 100 percent by Thursday, Wednesday was a day to do as little as possible.

There’s a fine line though, when you don’t want to or feel like doing much of anything but by the same token boredom can quickly set in. It’s a balancing act that involves TV, books (if you can focus enough to read unless you have something nice and brainless to fall back on) and maybe checking out the internet or YouTube.

But you can’t do that too long because the computer screen’s hard on the eyes, and your eyes are among the things bothering you most. They burn, they water, they itch and you just want to close them and hope it goes away. But I didn’t feel like sleeping, and I didn’t want to be bored, so I found things to occupy my time. I had one thing that had to occupy it — a bit of freelance work.

Of course, I know from my years working at the paper that as a sports reporter — especially with a new season right around the corner — there’s rarely any such thing as a true day off. I’ve even received calls while on vacation in another state partway across the country, asking for help, information or a phone number. There is no escape.

Even if I wanted to ignore things I simply couldn’t and get done what needed to get done. So I did a bit of research, did an interview, and got things ready to bang out a story.

Maybe it’s just me. The last time I simply slept all day I was sick, a few years ago. I think it might have even been around Christmastime. That time I didn’t go to the doctor, and was so floored by whatever flu I had I slept for something like 16 hours straight. But I find that very hard to do as a general rule, and while this illness has made me miserable it’s nothing compared to that plague.

So I probably didn’t sleep enough, but hopefully I rested enough to be able to attack Thursday a little more head-on. Because things have to get done, and I’m the one that has to do them.

On the ropes

When I woke up this morning, my hopes of this cold not getting too serious were quickly dashed. My throat was sorer than ever, and the congestion had finally moved in to match.

I was supposed to be babysitting Wednesday, so I quickly decided (or at least as quickly as I did anything) that I should see if I could get in to see my doctor and get some antibiotics to hopefully knock out the cold faster.

They squeezed me in to see a physician’s assistant in the office since my regular doctor wasn’t available, and despite some unsolicited advice she did say she was sending a prescription for a Z-pak to my drug store — across the street from the office.

I assumed that meant the prescription would be there when I arrived a few minutes later, but the pharmacy said they couldn’t find it. I thought they’d sent it electronically, and they said they’d text me as soon as they received it and it was being processed.

That text never came, and eventually it was closing time at the doctor’s office. I called the drug store back, they said they still didn’t have it, so I called the doctor’s office and explained my plight to the answering service. One of the other doctors called back and said it was definitely put in, but he would call again to make sure. While I was on the phone with him, the drug store called back. When I returned their call, they said they’d found the request — on their answering machine.

So then I had plenty of frustration on top of not being able to breathe (I’m currently on my third box of tissues today). I was in no condition to pick up the prescription by this point, so I had to wait for my wife to bring it home. Thanks to work and traffic, it was 8 pm before I finally got to take my first dose.

That was after hearing my cousin was hospitalized overnight. Then to cap things off I got to hear that a close friend had been laid off from his job, just as I was earlier this year. Luckily he’s one of the smartest people I know, so I have no doubt he’ll be employed again soon. But I could really use a break from this cold, bad news and just crap in general to give me a chance to feel like I’m getting off the ropes and back in the fight.