Unplanned Vacation

Last week I went to OnCue to get gas and buy a few staples. The kid working the counter couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, and I guess he wanted to make small talk.

“So, are you still working during this thing?”

“No.”

“Well…are you at least still getting paid?”

“No.”

I wasn’t being curt with him, I just didn’t feel like explaining my life to a stranger. I wanted to get my milk, Monsters and Reese’s and get out of there. (Told you these were vital purchases.) I was smiling as I answered his questions but didn’t provide any other details. Through some combination of him sensing that I wasn’t super stressed about it or him just wanting to make an awkward situation go away, he gave me a wink, head nod and a smirk and said, “You’re gonna be OK.”

Everybody is handling this pandemic in their own way, and I don’t waste my time telling other people they’re doing it wrong. Missy and I settled on our strategy a couple weeks ago and we’re sticking with it until new information changes it. Of course, Missy still has to work her nursing shifts. In fact, she’s working 12 hours tonight. Her teaching gig is up in the air, but it appears she either won’t be doing it at all or will be doing it remotely from her computer.

I’m not working, despite opportunities to continue to play poker. I’d feel terrible if I inadvertently got someone sick, and live poker seems about as risky as anything you could do right now — sitting at a table with 9 different people, touching the same cards and chips. No amount of money I could win would be worth how bad I’d feel if someone I knew got really sick and there was even a chance they got it from me. I could try to play online and eventually might go that route, but I’ve never enjoyed that experience and for now we are not in bad shape financially. So I’m using the extra time to spearhead the kids’ home schooling and do fun things as a family.

Just like with my hospitalization last month, we’re trying to focus on the positives that come out of a bad situation. While I’d prefer to be able to play basketball and use the weights at the gym, I’ve been able to go for a run in the neighborhood almost every day. We take Bailey on his walks. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We’ve tried a couple new recipes. And this week we went on a family camping expedition that we wouldn’t have been able to take had school been in session.

We went to Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow and stayed two nights. Neither Missy nor I had been down there before, and it was beautiful. When we parked, the kids jumped out of the van and let out some of the energy they’d stored up during the four-hour drive. A man who looked to be about my age was camping alone, and his tent space was only about 20 feet away from the one we had reserved. I gave him a wave and he just stared back at me. He was clearly getting annoyed at the kids, who were just being kids. Collectively the four of them can make a fair bit of noise but they weren’t being particularly crazy. Also, it was the middle of the afternoon and we were in the middle of the freaking woods. After being there less than five minutes, when it was obvious this guy wasn’t happy about our arrival, I leaned over to Missy and whispered, “I feel sorry for this poor sap.” At one point when I wasn’t close enough to hear him, he told the kids to keep it down. I tried to toe the line between letting the kids be kids and being respectful of my neighbor, but in the end I basically said eff that dude. We followed all of the campsite rules, especially the quiet hours from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., so it was really just his problem. But it bothered Missy that he kept giving us dirty looks.

Views from our campsite at Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow.

That first night, we got our tents set up and roasted hot dogs and smores for dinner. I slept in the bigger tent with the three smallest kids, while Missy and Addie shared a smaller tent. The kids were all so worn out that they slept pretty good, but me…not so much. Oh well, the weather was beautiful and everyone was excited to do a lot of exploring the next day.

Breakfast and dinner of champions.

Missy made pancakes and bacon on our little propane camp grill, and they turned out great. Our grumpy neighbor packed up and left, prompting Missy to say, “Don’t let the outdoors hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” (We got new neighbors the next night and they were cool.)

The first thing we did after leaving the camp was find a fishing spot, but there weren’t many good ones if you weren’t a fly fisherman and you didn’t have a boat. So that was basically a swing and a miss. We caught a couple branches. Then we went on a little hike, which was fun. Then we found a swimming hole, and the kids really loved that. We spent several hours there. Maddux swam back and forth across the pond about 20 times — I don’t know how he had the energy.

Addie at the swimming hole

There are a couple of craft breweries in Broken Bow, something I was completely unaware of until my buddy Jacob Unruh saw where we were on Snapchat and told me about them. I called into one and ordered some beer to go, then we picked it up on our way back to the campsite. It may have been the weather and scenery more than the actual beer, but either way it was one of the more enjoyable beers I’ve had in my life.

Shout out to Mountain Fork Brewery and to Jacob Unruh for the recommendation

After dinner and more smores, we were completely zonked out. I was supposed to get the three youngest kids to sleep and then sit by our campfire and talk with Missy, but I was so exhausted that I feel asleep with them and actually got a good night’s rest.

These kids wore me out!

We dodged a bullet the next morning when we were packing up. It looked like it was going to rain the whole time. We even felt a few sprinkles and some of those ominous cold wind gusts that usually precede a storm. But it never rained hard and we were able to get the van loaded back up and make the drive home without incident.

It was truly a great time. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not an outdoorsman by any stretch, but between the beautiful scenery, the perfect weather and the sheer joy on my kids’ faces, it was a very rewarding experience.

I can’t pretend to know how long this thing is going to last or what it will look like. We’re just going to keep doing what we feel is best for our family, tightening our bonds and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Six Days at Oakwood Springs

The first thing I need to do in this post is make my intentions clear.

I learned several valuable things during my six-day stay at Oakwood Springs. I don’t question my family’s decision to take me there. I was in a terrible state of mind and needed help. I believe I’m in a good place now mentally and that’s partially a credit to my time at Oakwood Springs.

However, I do believe that we as a society have a long way to go when it comes to treating mental health issues. We’ve come a long way in the past 10 years or so but there is still a lot of ground to be made up. I believe my stay at Oakwood Springs can spotlight several of these issues, and I don’t mind sharing it. I have never been to any other mental health facilities so I can only speak to my experience at Oakwood Springs. Here goes.

As I shared in the last blog, I started showing signs of major depression/panic attack/anxiety at around 4 a.m. When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep or breathe normally, my brother took me to Oakwood Springs, arriving at about 2 p.m. Missy stayed back to pick the kids up from school and take Addie to her choir practice and Myra to her piano lesson.

By this time, I’m already on a completely sleepless night which was preceded by a night when I hardly slept. I’ve been crying for the better part of 10 hours and can’t get my breathing under control. I was in the waiting area at Oakwood Springs for two hours, then was taken back to a “consultation room.” The room was small, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, with three chairs, bright lights, a hard floor, and a TV turned to the 90s pop music channel.

Upon entering that room, I had to surrender everything on my person, which was my wallet and my cell phone. By this time I’m actually so exhausted that I could have slept. I tried laying down on the floor but it was too hard to get any sleep. So I basically oscillated between trying but failing to fall asleep and crying/panic attacking until I was so tired I thought I might be able to fall asleep.

After a couple of hours, a woman came in and took an assessment. I told her what I was going through and she wrote it down, asked a few questions. Then she left. Another hour or so goes by. By now I am completely exhausted and very confident that I could be asleep in a matter of minutes if I could get an actual bed and some kind of anxiety drug to settle my breathing.

A different woman comes in, says she wants me to go inpatient. I ask if there’s any way I can just get a prescription and go home and sleep. She says no. She repeats that she wants me to go inpatient. She’s saying it in a way that makes me feel like I have some say in the matter, so I repeat my preference to just go home. She says, “If you don’t agree to go inpatient, we’ll have no choice but to get an emergency order of detention which essentially guarantees you’ll stay here at least seven days. If you voluntarily come in, the average stay is three days.”

I was pretty shocked. Like I said, I’ve never been to any place like this but I arrived thinking I might stay one night and then once I got some sleep I’d be able to tackle this thing properly. Every person is different but any time I’ve had depression episodes in the past they’ve become manageable once I got some sleep. This one was worse than any others I’d had, but I still felt like sleep was the main thing I needed. Now I was being given a choice between staying three days and seven days? And this is after coming in completely exhausted and having to wait in a lobby for two hours and then in a small, hard, bright room with no phone for three more hours? I said I would go in voluntarily and she said I’d have to wait in the consultation room awhile longer while my room was prepared.

Now I am way more tired than anything else. I’m also sick of the same 90s pop songs being played on a loop. These weren’t even the good 90s songs. It’s been more than an hour since I talked to the last lady. The only thing I’ve eaten all day is a granola bar. I just found out I’ll be in this place for at least three days. I only thought I was losing my mind when I walked in.

They walked me back to the Meadows unit, which has about 24 beds and is for people like me who are struggling with depression or some other kind of mental issue. However, my actual room/bed still wasn’t ready so I had to wait on a couch in a common area. I was able to grab a ham sandwich from the fridge. Other than that I just stared straight ahead like a zombie until my bed was ready, which was around 10 p.m.

I had a roommate for about 10 seconds. When I walked in and said hi, he said, “Keep to yourself and you’ll be fine.” Ummm, OK. Then he said, “I’m switching rooms. There’s a chick I like a few doors down so I’m gonna go be closer to her.” And then he was gone for good. He spent one night in his other room and then got transferred to a different unit the next day.

As I walked to my room I saw a guy nod in my direction and say, “Looks like he’s coming down off of some really good shit.” I looked in the mirror. My eyes were completely bloodshot. They gave me two pretty potent pills to help me sleep and I was out like a light despite the bed being uncomfortable, having just one small pillow (they didn’t have any more), and being looked in on every 15 minutes. (You aren’t allowed to close the door to your room.)

At 5 a.m., they woke me up to check my vitals. I went back to sleep. At 7:15 they woke me up to see if I wanted breakfast. I said no and went back to sleep. At 8 they woke me up to take my bloodwork. I went back to sleep. At 9:30 they woke me up to see the psychiatrist who would decide what drugs I’d take and when I’d get to go home. She gave me Prozac and I went back to sleep. At 10:30 they woke me up to meet with the business office.

This lady showed me a piece of paper which estimated that my stay would cost about $5000. I have insurance but it would all go towards my deductible. She said they have payment plans if I need them or they could give me a discount if I could pay it all at the time of my discharge. The cynic in me wondered if I’d get to go home earlier if I said I couldn’t afford any of it.

Really, though, this is kind of messed up, right? I’ve been in the facility for 20 hours. Two was spent in the waiting room, 5 was spent in the sleep deprivation station with crappy 90s music, and 11 was spent in a drug-induced coma. Ten minutes was spent with a doctor. I was still pretty groggy and definitely under the influence of the sleeping drugs. I’m here because I wasn’t considered to have the mental wherewithal to take care of myself. And now you’re showing me a $5k bill and asking me how I’m going to pay for it.

I was in a haze the rest of the day but I managed to eat lunch and dinner and attend the group meetings. They drugged me up again Wednesday night and I was asleep by 10 p.m. I was awoken at 2 a.m. not by a sound but by a smell. And then by the sounds. Someone was pooping in my bathroom. At first I was completely freaked out and didn’t know what to do but it turns out I got a new roommate in the middle of the night. We shared the room the rest of my stay and he was cool. But that was a weird way to get woken up.

Thursday was a typical day at Oakwood Springs. Here’s a rough outline of my schedule:

6 a.m. — Wake up and take vitals

7:30 — Breakfast

8 — Get meds

9 — Group therapy (fill out paper saying how you feel)

9: 30 — Group session (topic might be positive thinking, anger, etc.)

10:30 — Activity (art, music, game, etc.)

11:30 — Meet with psychiatrist for 10 mins

Noon — Lunch

1 p.m. — Group session

2 — Activity

3 — Free time

5 — Dinner (Overall, the food was fine. Neither bad nor good).

6 — Gym

7 — Visitation

8 — Vitals/meds

9 — Group session (fill out paper about how day went)

10 — Bed

As you can see, there are a lot of group times and virtually no 1-on-1 times. The group times were certainly valuable, but all of us were going through different things. Many of the women were in abusive relationships, so we talked a lot about that. I have the most supportive family a person could ask for.

Seeing the family was difficult. Kids aren’t allowed at the nightly one-hour visitations. There is a one-hour family visitation time on Saturdays, and the psychiatrist allowed an extra 30-minute kid visit one other day. Keep in mind that we live 30 minutes away from Oakwood so Missy drove the kids an hour so they could see me for 30 minutes.

I understand that some people’s situations might not call for family visits, but in my case I certainly could have used more time with my kids. Feelings of guilt and shame were what overwhelmed me in the first place, and now I was separated from my family for six days, facing a $5000 bill. I am extremely grateful that my mother-in-law was able to drive down from Kansas and help Missy take care of the kids while I was there. Even still, I felt worse about myself because I was racking up a huge expense for our family while not being able to contribute anything.

Another thing in short supply at Oakwood Springs was fresh air. There was a small fenced-in area where they let you go for smoke breaks three times a day. I took all of the smoke breaks even though I don’t smoke just to go outside, because that was usually the only opportunity to do so. On two of the days with nicer weather, we had an activity session in that little yard. Otherwise secondhand smoke was the closest thing to fresh air I got. I’ve never heard of fresh air being bad for anyone so I don’t see why there isn’t more access to it.

On Thursday I begged the psychiatrist to let me go home Friday, but she said I’d have to stay until Monday. Her reasoning was that I’d only been on the Prozac for two days so they wanted to see if I had any negative side effects from it. She said I could have gone home Saturday or Sunday but they don’t release anyone on the weekends so it would have to be Monday. Sure enough, nobody on our unit left on the weekend.

I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if it weren’t so expensive to stay there and if my wife had had any say whatsoever in this whole process. Over the course of six days I met with the psychiatrist four times for a total of 30 minutes. I met with an actual therapist once for 10 minutes. On Saturday and Sunday I met with a nurse practitioner for a total of 10 minutes. On Friday a doctor I didn’t recognize and had never met pulled me aside and asked the same five questions I was asked about 50 times per day by everybody who works there.

  1. Are you thinking of hurting yourself?
  2. Are you thinking of hurting others?
  3. How would you rate your anxiety on a scale of 1-10?
  4. How would you rate your depression?
  5. How is your medication working so far?

No big deal, except I later found out that the doctor will be billing me separately for his services, which provided no value whatsoever. That’s the only time I ever saw him, and I never even sat down. The whole encounter lasted 45 seconds. I’ll also be being billed separately from the psychiatrist and I believe the therapist. Not sure about her or the nurse practitioner but you get the point. They run around seeing all 24 people in the unit for five minutes apiece over the course of two hours and then send us a big bill after we’re done paying the big hospital bill.

Not once was Missy ever contacted by any of the doctors, and she had no way to communicate with them. Again, I understand that some people’s home situations aren’t right for a spouse to have a say on when someone goes home, but that’s not the case with me. I get no say in the matter, theoretically because I’m too unstable to make such a decision, and my wife also gets no say. They can keep you two extra days because they don’t want to release anyone on the weekend and I’m forced to just live with that and pay an extra $2000.

Just calling Missy was quite an ordeal. Of course I had no access to my cell phone. There were three land lines in the unit, for the 24 of us to share. One of them was broken about half the time. A couple of the patients were on the phone virtually every waking moment, making it hard for anyone else to make a call. I was able to sneak in short calls to Missy and my mom most every day.

Sleeping was also not ideal. The TVs were turned off at 10 but there were usually people talking or playing cards well into the night. Since you couldn’t close your door the light and the sound came right in, and the PCAs come in to check on you every 15 minutes throughout the night. Then at 5:30 a.m. they wake you up to take your vitals and people start getting up and around.

Sleep, fresh air, exercise, and communication with loved ones seem like good things for everyone, especially those dealing with mental health issues. Communication between a spouse and doctors to formulate the best plan for the patient seems like a good idea. I feel like these are simple yet significant steps that Oakwood Springs (and probably the whole mental health care system) needs to take.

Personally, once I got over the sleep deprivation, I knew I needed to find the right medicine and find a therapist to work through the issues I’ve been letting slide for far too long. Again, I certainly learned valuable things during the group sessions that will help me in the long term. But I didn’t need to be in there for six days. I honestly just didn’t. I recognized what I needed to do, which was the same things the psychiatrist said I needed to do, and I was ready to go home and start doing them. The extra time just cost me and my family money and frustration.

Again, I want to thank the PCAs at Oakwood Springs for being incredible and awesome. They all need a pay raise. I also want to thank my friends and family, who supported me at a level far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. It’s truly humbling.

So far the Prozac is working fine I suppose. Wouldn’t say I’ve noticed much benefit but I’ve only been on it for a couple of weeks and there haven’t been any side effects outside of some fatigue. I’ve also started therapy.

I’m ready to move on and write about more fun things now. Thanks for indulging me on this somber subject, maybe it will make a difference. Love y’all.

Depression II (Sequels Always Suck)

To be honest, I’d rather be writing about something else, and I look forward to doing that soon. At the same time, I know a lot of you have sent texts, prayers, encouragement and support my way. For that I am extremely humbled and grateful, and I feel like it might be helpful for you and therapeutic for me to explain what happened.

About a year ago I wrote about my occasional bouts with depression. I’m not going to repeat all of that here, but you can click on the link if you’re interested.

In that post I noted several of the triggers that always or frequently accompany my episodes. Last Monday night/Tuesday morning I checked off pretty much all of those plus a couple more, leading to the darkest time in my life so far.

No matter how illogical I knew my thinking was, I just could not overcome my feelings of guilt, self-hatred, and despair. I had no plan to kill myself, but I did wish that I could cease to exist. I felt that I was destined to die the same way my father did, whether it was that day or sometime in the future, and therefore nothing mattered. I was a terrible husband, a terrible father, a terrible human.

I couldn’t breathe, much less sleep. And sleep is what I needed more than anything. I needed someone to shoot me with horse tranquilizers and wake me up two days later. I knew this was worse than any of my other episodes, and it felt like there was no way it could end.

After keeping myself and Missy up all night, I called my brother Andrew. I didn’t want him to drive up from Norman but he was concerned so he came over. Talking to Andrew made me feel better, so when I got off the phone with him I called Chad in Missouri. That also helped but as soon as I was alone with my thoughts they went right back to that very dark place.

I knew I was extremely tired and that my thoughts weren’t logical, but after hours of hyperventilating, sleep seemed as impossible as happiness. It was just a never-ending cycle of negative thoughts about myself and my future. This basically went on uninterrupted from about 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. — 18 hours of bad thinking and crappy breathing, plus I was starting to get dehydrated from crying too much.

In the middle of that, around 1 p.m., my family decided I needed to get checked in somewhere so that I would be safe and get some sleep. They chose Oakwood Springs on the north side of Oklahoma City, so off we went.

For now I’m going to skip over what that week was like and get straight to the moral of the story. If you’re interested in what being locked up in a psych ward is like, that will be the topic of my next blog.

I learned a lot of things. Being without a cell phone and a TV for a week was a good way to reset and appreciate what really matters in life. Hearing about all the love and support my friends and family have for me was very heartwarming. It made me feel unworthy yet again but also gave me a purpose and motivation to fight through this.

It helped to be with people who had similar struggles to my own. There were about 24 beds in my unit, and basically everyone was dealing with depression on some level or another. Despite people constantly coming and going there was definitely a sense of community, and it helped to know I wasn’t the only person in the world going through this.

The staff at Oakwood Springs is amazing. I’m not talking about the doctors or therapists but the PCAs who hold the place together. They showed an amazing level of kindness, patience and love no matter what crisis was going on in the unit that day (and trust me, there’s some kind of crisis in the unit every day).

Some of the group sessions and time spent by myself thinking about those sessions taught me very valuable lessons. For one, I was able to write down all of my triggers and think logically about how those can cause me to tip over the edge. Before, I knew what my triggers were but kind of just did my best to get by until one day I didn’t. I could afford a couple of crappy, crying nights every year, but I knew I couldn’t afford another night like the one last week where I desired death for the first time. I don’t ever want to feel like that again.

I learned some small things I can do to help check those trigger levels and push them back a little. Journaling, breathing exercises, things to think/meditate on, situations to avoid, etc.

I started on a low dose of an anti-depressant. I’d never taken them before because I didn’t feel like my episodes were frequent or severe enough to warrant it, plus I’ve always been scared of the side effects. I’d still like to be completely med-free, but for now I recognize the importance of getting past this stage. So far I haven’t had any side effects to speak of.

I also started getting some therapy. In hindsight, I realize that never getting counseling after my dad died was stupid. Never getting counseling when I started having sleepless nights filled with guilt was stupid. Waiting for it to get this bad was stupid. But I’m in it now, and I’m hopeful it will help.

Again, I’m so thankful for my family and friends. I feel incredibly loved.

My Prof Dropped the N Bomb

I was playing poker Tuesday afternoon when I glanced at my phone and saw a story from OU’s student newspaper, the OU Daily, that made my jaw drop.

One of the journalism professors — one of my journalism professors — said the n-word in class. He was attempting to make a crappy analogy, not actually calling someone that name. But it’s 2020 and you’re in the most woke place in the entire state. Seems pretty crazy.

The professor’s name is Peter Gade, and this is the story I read Tuesday afternoon. There are a lot more details there for anyone interested.

Unsurprisingly, the story gained legs pretty quickly. It made the front page of Wednesday’s Oklahoman. The OU Daily has done several follow-up pieces. The National Association of Black Journalists chimed in. The Student Government Association chimed in. OU’s Black Emergency Response Team chimed in. The interim President of the whole university chimed in. Gade himself chimed in, apologizing.

(Please click on all these links and read the work OU’s current journalists are doing. It’s free and will probably show how much better the students are now than the one who used to write for them 20 years ago.)

I took Gade’s class as a sophomore. It was one of the “weed out” journalism courses that left many changing their majors. It ended up changing my life.

Well, the class itself didn’t change my life, but in that class I became friends with Keith Dinwiddie. We wound up rooming together for our last two years at OU. It changed his life more than it changed mine, as his future wife ended up moving into the apartment below ours and they now live in her homeland of France. He visited Oklahoma a month ago and I got to see him a couple of times. I still consider him one of my best friends.

Funny thing is, Keith and I had several debates about Gade. Keith loved him. I loved him too — when he actually talked about journalism. He clearly had a great grasp on the big picture of journalism, and that manifested in him getting a couple of books published on the subject. He always encouraged a back-and-forth style of lecture, allowing students to jump in with questions or comments that kept the discussion flowing.

What I hated about Gade is that for some 20 minute portion of every lecture he would go on a political tangent. And that back-and-forth style would backfire when it came to these tangents, since there were a couple of poor saps who would counter Gade’s far-left opinions with their far-right opinions. He’d always take the bait and spend the next several minutes shooting down those dissenting views. It would frustrate me to no end because I didn’t care what Gade or anyone else in the class thought about politics, but I couldn’t just walk out because when the political tangent was over we’d be back discussing things that might be on the final exam. Keith didn’t mind those sidebars like I did. Ironically it sounds like one of those off-topic rants is what got him in trouble.

I can’t claim to know Gade personally, but I will say that he never said anything remotely racist while I was in his class. He was pretentious, but that certainly isn’t a unique quality among college professors.

On one hand, I feel a little bad for him because I don’t believe he is a bad person. We all make mistakes, especially when it comes to saying things we regret. On the other hand, it’s 20 freaking 20. That’s literally the one word you can’t say. He could throw the F word out there right and left. He could probably drop a C bomb if it wasn’t directed toward a student. But you can’t say the N word.

He should lose his job over it. At OU he would forever be known as the guy who said the N word. It would undermine all of his legitimate work. And it would be a pretty bad look for the school after the SAE scandal to punish students but let a privileged professor off the hook.

How times have changed. When I was a student, the President of OU and some of his top aides were touching dudes inappropriately. Everyone knew it and talked about it, but it didn’t cost him a damn thing for another 15 years. Now a random professor can’t get away with a single stray word without a press release from 40 different organizations and a town hall meeting.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. I would say I’m not the biggest fan of the “gotcha” culture that unites in piling onto people who make egregious mistakes because it makes them feel morally superior. Gade knows he screwed up. Even if it costs him his current job, it doesn’t mean he’s unqualified to speak about journalism ever again. Heck, he’s probably learned quite a bit about the power of modern journalism through this incident.

When I was working for the OU Daily and taking Gade’s class, my stories didn’t reach anyone until the next morning. This incident happened at around 10:15 a.m. I was sitting at a poker table in Goldsby and read about it just a couple of hours after it happened. Then I got to read several of the updates throughout the day. The next morning I read The Oklahoman’s version on the front page. It was interesting to think about the difference. Used to be, that Oklahoman wrap-up version was all you had.

Several of my former Daily peers are now in leadership positions in Student Media at OU. The students who work for the OU Daily are learning by doing, just like we did. And they’re doing journalism in real time, just like it’s done in the real world now.

I had trouble with the dial-up internet connection in Miami trying to file a story about the dadgum national championship football game.

The times, they are a-changin.

Also, don’t say the N word.

Update: Gade is stepping down from teaching the class for the rest of the semester.

http://www.oudaily.com/news/ou-professor-peter-gade-to-step-back-from-journalism-capstone/article_569ea45e-4f5e-11ea-a95f-1708f5d10449.html

Mom, Dad and Sports

We were going to get Mom an ice maker. The kind that makes the Sonic-style ice that she loves so much.

So we went in with my sister and got Mom the ice maker for Christmas. The last couple of years, we had gotten her tickets to a Thunder game for her Christmas present. She loved those, but with the team trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the offseason it seemed like a good time to get her something different.

The ice maker was still sitting in its box a couple of weeks after Christmas. Mom said it was too tall for her to reach on her kitchen counter. I said it was no problem to take it back and asked what she might want instead. Of course, she said she didn’t want anything. Of course, my sister and I were not going to give mom nothing for Christmas.

I asked if she wanted to go another Thunder game. Her face lit up. “Well, if you want to. That would be fun.”

So we went. And it was a lot of fun, even though the Thunder got behind by quite a bit early and lost to the Toronto Raptors.

We posed with a cardboard cutout of Steven Adams, Mom’s favorite player.

This season was supposed to be something of a bummer after trading away the two big stars. Instead, fans have really embraced this squad that shares the ball and plays hard on both ends of the floor.

No one has gotten more emotionally involved in this team than my mom. I think the only reasons she owns a TV are Fox News and Fox Sports Oklahoma, and not in that order. She watches every game (at least the ones that aren’t played on the West Coast after her bedtime) and is very concerned with the health and well-being of the players. I get texts asking about Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson on a regular basis. Her favorite player is Steven Adams, whom she said she’d like to have dinner with.

These Thunder aren’t the first sports team my mom has been obsessed with. My dad was also very into sports. So I suppose I come by my attraction to sports honestly.

When Mom and Dad were growing up, baseball was king. And since MLB.TV hadn’t quite been invented yet, there weren’t a lot of options when it came to which teams to follow.

Growing up in Enid, Okla., Mom latched onto the New York Yankees and their Oklahoma-born superstar, Mickey Mantle. They were frequently on TV for the Game of the Week, and there were plenty of stories about the team and the Mick in the newspaper. Mom made a scrapbook of many of the newspaper clippings, which we still have. It’s pretty cool.

If you weren’t a fan of the Yankees in those days, the St. Louis Cardinals were probably your favorite team. Growing up in Jones, Okla., dad could pick up Harry Caray’s radio call of the Cardinal games and became a fan.

Both made treks to see their favorite teams before meeting each other. Mom got to go to a Yankee game in Kansas City and followed Mantle and a few of his teammates to a local watering hole after the game before avoiding further trouble. Dad joined the military and was stationed close enough to St. Louis to get to catch a few games when he was on leave. He said the longest home run he’s ever seen in person was hit by Willie Mays at one such contest.

When I was growing up, Dad put a basketball goal in our driveway. I used to throw the ball onto the roof of our house, wait for it to bounce off and then catch the “pass” and shoot. My goal was to be able to beat Dad at one-on-one, which was no easy task since he was 6-foot-4 and pretty good at basketball. I quickly learned to put a lot of arc on my shots since that was needed to get them over his arms.

Mom and Dad were great sports parents. Very encouraging and always attending our games but not berating the officials or telling us all the ways we messed up.

As far as their favorite teams went, Mom more or less abandoned the Yankees after growing up and having kids of her own. She really didn’t have time to be a fan of anything other than her kids. Dad never wavered from his Cardinals but didn’t get to watch many games.

One of my first sports-related memories was the 1987 World Series. The Cardinals were playing the Minnesota Twins and I was 7 years old. My bedtime was well before these games ended, but I snuck out of my room and into the hallway, where I could catch a glimpse of the small TV in our living room where Dad was watching the games. It was a great World Series, with Minnesota winning in 7 games. I loved the atmosphere in Minnesota for the games there, with the “homer hankies” and Kirby Puckett making great catches. I asked for something Twins-related for Christmas and got my first ever ballcap, a snapback with the Twins’ “M” logo.

Every Twins fan waved one of these at the Metrodome in 1987.
This is what my first ever baseball cap looked like. Now I have way too many of these things.

The 1987 World Series got me hooked on baseball, but there weren’t many ways for me to get a fix in those days. The only teams that were on TV regularly were the Chicago Cubs on WGN and the Atlanta Braves on TBS. Both teams stunk back then but the Cubs were on during the day and had the always-entertaining Harry Caray (the same guy that got my dad hooked on the Cardinals) calling the games, so I picked them.

I didn’t know that the Cardinals were the Cubs’ chief rival, and by the time I figured it out I was too entrenched to do anything about it. Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player.

Eventually I was able to beat my dad at basketball, mainly because he wasn’t great at dribbling and I could steal the ball from him. But he could always shoot it about as well as I could and I definitely couldn’t guard him in the post. Unfortunately, he had a bad back and was worried about making it worse so we didn’t get to play too much after I finally beat him.

We did, however, start golfing together. That was the one thing he almost always did on his day off from work if the weather was decent. He was a pretty good golfer, usually scoring around 85-90. Once at Earlywine he was hanging around even par for 9 or 10 holes, which was exciting. He tailed off at the end but still broke 80 which was a rare occurrence.

Once, we thought I might have hit a hole in one. Turns out the ball had either rolled into the pin and not stuck into the hole or it rolled just behind the hole. Either way it was about 6 inches from the hole directly behind the pin, but it was exciting nonetheless. I was never as good as dad but on a couple of lucky days I did manage to beat him, and that was always a good feeling. I very rarely golf anymore and the main reason is that it brings back so many memories of rounds with dad that I’ll never be able to play again.

When I graduated from high school in 1998, my graduation gift was my first ever trip to Chicago. Mom and Dad both went with me and we went to a pair of Cubs games. We sat in the bleachers for my first game ever, arriving early enough to sit on the front row in right field. I leaned over the wall and snatched a piece of ivy. I was scolded by security but I got to keep the ivy. That was a special season as Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs and the Cubs made a rare playoff appearance. Sosa didn’t homer in that first game but we had a great view as he made his trademark sprint to right field to start the game, and the Cubs won.

Dad and I both got into the home run chase of 1998, which was eventually won by Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. In 1999 Dad planned a trip to St. Louis for the two of us to watch a Cubs/Cards weekend series at Busch Stadium. On the drive up there, dad said he hoped to see McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals win two out of three. (This was generous of him, wanting me to get to see one Cub win. I of course wanted the Cubs to sweep the thing.) Sure enough, McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals won two out of three. It was a really memorable trip and a great time.

Around this time, perhaps because of some of the home run hype, Mom started getting back into baseball. All of us kids had graduated and she finally had some free time on her hands. If she had any struggle over which team to support, she didn’t show it. She got really into the Cubs.

In 2004, the three of us went to St. Louis for another Cubs/Cardinals series. While eating lunch before the game, we saw Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. I was too intimidated to bother him but Dad walked right up and introduced himself. Stone was very generous and told us that if we wanted to see the Cubs players up close, we could go to such-and-such hotel at some specific time, as that’s when they’d board the team bus to head to the game.

Mom’s favorite player was Moises Alou. Let’s just say he was the Steven Adams of 2004. Mom was kind of obsessed with him. Anyway, Mom really wanted to see the Cubs up close so we went to the hotel at the time Stone told us to. Sure enough, we got to see the team. When Alou emerged from the building, Mom started yelling, “Moises! Moises! Moises!” and blowing him kisses. Mind you, we’re only standing a few feet away from him. Alou glanced our way and gave a wink, then started chuckling as he boarded the bus.

Dad passed away in November of 2004, which naturally changed everything. As far as the Cubs were concerned, Mom still rooted for them but not with the same vigor, especially since Moises left the team after that 2004 season.

Dad’s favorite Cardinal that year was Albert Pujols, who was emerging as a superstar. At first, Dad didn’t know how to pronounce his name (Pu-holes). But then, even after he learned, he would purposely mispronounce it (Pu-joles) because he thought it was funny. Dad did things like that a lot. It’s kind of crazy that Pujols is still collecting paychecks and home runs in the major leagues, more than 15 years after Dad quit calling him Pu-Joles.

Mom was never an NBA fan, but that changed when the Thunder came, as it did for many Oklahomans. When Kevin Durant left us for Golden State on July 4, it ruined Mom’s Independence Day. Truth be told, she probably didn’t get over KD leaving until Russ got traded this summer.

At the Thunder game we went to, Mom made fast friends with the young man sitting next to her. Between talking to him and yelling for the Thunder, I don’t know how she had a voice left at the end of the night. It was really cool to see how much fun she was having.

I think I know what I might get her for Christmas this year.

The Microtel in Ardmore Sucks

I recently had occasion to spend a night in Ardmore. Over the years, I’ve stayed several times at the Microtel there. I generally like it because it’s cheap and plenty nice enough for my meager needs. The room is tiny, which is why it’s called “Micro”tel, but all I do there is sleep and maybe read a book for 30 minutes. I don’t need a minibar. It’s far too small for my family of 6 but when it’s just me crashing for a few hours between poker stops, it’s fine.

Except the other night. That was not fine.

It started as soon as I walked in, when they couldn’t get me checked in properly. I use hotels.com so it’s not unusual for something to go wrong. Normally it wouldn’t even annoy me but on this particular night it was already after midnight when I was checking in and there were only about five cars in the parking lot. That, combined with the fact that the rate was the lowest I’ve ever paid there, led me to believe they had lots of open rooms. The lady could see that I had a reservation but for whatever reason couldn’t click on whatever she needed to in order to get from there to handing me a room key. I was dead tired after an 11-hour day of poker and driving so I just wanted to crash. The only good news was that she easily agreed to my request for a noon checkout.

Finally she gives me a key and a room number. I take the stairs to the room. Normally, this would be the part where I tell you that my key doesn’t work and I have to walk back down the stairs. This has happened to me before at this very establishment, but on this night the key worked fine and I entered the room. Notice I didn’t say “my” room, because it was somebody else’s. Thankfully there was nobody in the room or else I would probably either be dead or in therapy right now. I can report that the occupant in this room had done a very poor job of consuming popcorn in bed. There was popcorn everywhere. Like, an impossible amount of uneaten popcorn.

If it weren’t for the popcorn, I might have just gone to bed and rolled the dice on who might be joining me in a few hours. But no. The lady gave me a new key to a new room. It worked and the room was popcorn free.

Notice I didn’t say “smoke free.” Actually, at the time I entered the room was smoke free. I tossed the “do not disturb” sign on my door, tossed my bag on the floor and was asleep in a matter of minutes. But it didn’t stay smoke free for long. I was awakened by a massive fire, had to throw a chair through my second-story window and leap to the ground in my skivvies.

OK, that didn’t happen. But it’s possible I was dreaming about something like that when I actually was awakened by the smell of smoke. This, however, was not the kind of smoke you smell when your building is on fire. Unless your building was lit on fire with 150 pounds of marijuana.

My neighbor apparently liked to smoke at 4:20 a.m. as well as 4:20 p.m. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it didn’t bother me too much. I went back to sleep.

A couple of hours later, I was again awakened, this time by the Microtel manager banging on my neighbor’s door. They got into a bit of a shouting match about the smoke, which ended with the manager saying, “I’m charging you for a smoking room!!” That kind of made me chuckle but I still wasn’t thrilled about being awake at 6 a.m.

I managed to go back to sleep until 10:30, when housekeeping knocked on my door. They paid no heed to my “do not disturb” sign. I yelled that I was still in there and tried to go back to sleep.

This proved to be unsatisfactory to the housekeeping crew at the Microtel. They knocked on my door again 10 minutes later. I yelled that I had a noon checkout. Five minutes after that, the phone in my room rang. The lady asked if I would like to purchase an additional evening of elegance at the Microtel. It wasn’t even 11 a.m. yet, the standard checkout time.

Since I prefer snarkiness to pure confrontation, I calmly informed her that while I appreciated the free secondhand pot and the multiple interruptions to my sleep, I could not afford a second night of such luxurious bliss. I told her I had been granted a Noon checkout and promised I would vacate their hallowed premises by such time.

If I had had 150 pounds of pot in my car, I would have spread it around that piece of crap and set it on fire.

Putting a Bow on 2019

Personally, Christmas isn’t my favorite time of year. Too many commitments, too much mayhem, too many pine needles. And in our family it’s always a little extra hectic because Addison’s birthday is the day after Christmas. But it is truly priceless to see the innocent joy on your kids’ faces when they are completely overjoyed, and Christmas produces a lot of those moments.

Our main present to the kids this year was the announcement that we are taking them to Disney World in May. Missy put together a cool scavenger hunt that helped them piece together the clues. They were even more excited than I anticipated, although Maddux is already scared of the airplane and Hawk seemed to think we were leaving immediately.

Got 3 happy kids out of 4, that’s not bad!

We always try to make Addie’s birthday a completely separate event from Christmas. This year we pretty much let her dictate how we spent the whole day. She chose a “girls only” visit to the movies for Frozen 2, which made me very sad — NOT. Then we drove all the way to Lawton for her favorite restaurant, the hibachi place Kudo. It was great as always.

I can’t believe that girl is 11.

A couple days after that, we watched OU get embarrassed by LSU. Of course, you want to see it be more competitive than that, but we knew this Sooner squad was outmanned even before the suspensions and injuries. That’s why, a couple blogs ago, I wrote that my dream scenario was for OU to win out in the regular season but miss the playoff so they had a chance to win a major bowl game.

Honestly, they probably weren’t going to beat Georgia or whoever else they might have played in one of those things so I guess they might as well be able to say they made the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. It’s an impressive accomplishment no matter what the haters say. The program is in great shape. Let’s cool the jets on all this negative talk.

As I look back on 2019, my personal highlights were getting to see the Cubs play in three different states (Spring Training in Arizona with Chad, in Texas with James and in Chicago with Randy). Turning 40 was also kind of a big deal, and I got to celebrate that in a big way with my friends here and also in Mexico with my beautiful wife Missy.

Now we’re visiting Missy’s sister just outside of Austin, Texas. This is where we were exactly a year ago, and I’m sitting in the same room where I wrote my first blog on this new platform. My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to get back into writing by doing one blog per week. Mission accomplished! I’ve truly enjoyed it and will keep up the blog.

However, I am planning to scale back just a bit. Sometimes I felt like I had to throw something together just to meet my goal and it wasn’t always my best work. Also, I basically abandoned my guitar for the year and I’d like to get back into that. So my goal for 2020 is to do at least two blogs every month and also play guitar at least twice a month. I also have work and personal financial goals I’ll be striving for this year.

I want to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who gave me feedback on any of the blogs I wrote this year. I don’t think I could have stayed with my goal if not for you. The encouragement was very encouraging (yes, I’m quite the wordsmith).

When I take stock of my life, I can’t believe how much cool stuff I’ve been able to do. That pales in comparison with the quality of people I get to call my family and friends. Y’all are the best. Have a Happy New Year. See you on the other side.