The Plank in the Ocean

Note: One of my New Year’s goals was to post one poem and one fictional short story on here. It’s August and I haven’t done either, so here’s my attempt at the former. I don’t read poetry and I’ve never tried to write it, so I have no expectation that this will be good. Hell, it’s probably not technically even poetry. Tips and criticisms are gladly accepted.

Note, Part 2: This deals with mental health issues. The thoughts I express here are real but I have never actually considered harming myself. I promise.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go. The kids might be crazy, or they might be great. Work might be great, or it might really suck. More to the point, I never know how I’ll react to any of those scenarios. The kids might be crazy, and I might be the calm, empathetic father I want to be. Or I might lose my temper. Work might suck and I might not let it bother me in the least. Or the tiniest annoying thing might stick in my head and not get out.

Nighttimes are almost always good, like 97.5% of the time. I can unwind, relax, go to bed.

That 2.5% though…it feels like floating on a plank in the middle of the ocean without land or boat in sight.

The water is the made of Nevers.

Never be good enough.

Never be the father I want to be.

Never be the father I had.

Never be the husband I want to be.

Never get to sleep.

Never escape this ocean.

The salt is the mistakes I’ve made.

Yelled at the kids.

Lied.

Drank too much.

Misplayed a hand and cost my family money.

Can’t even provide for them.

Chose myself over my family.

Missed out on time I’ll never get back.

The salt stings.

Cycling from one to the next, it never ends. I rub the salt out of my eyes only to have more instantaneously appear. I poke my head out of the water.

Breathe.

Deep breaths.

Count to ten.

I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

Your mistakes don’t define you.

You try the best you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Thing is, this isn’t manufactured salt. All the mistakes are real and regrettable. They aren’t one-time occurrences either. I’m 40 years old, and every year it seems to get worse, not better. How does this all end? I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

I should take an anxiety pill, but it’ll make me sleep for 12 hours. It’s already 2 a.m. The whole next day will be wasted. All because X, because Y, because Z. Never, never, never.

The plank is the morning.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

But how? Can’t breathe, much less sleep. Head is light, stomach turning. Seasick, I guess. No land, no boats in sight. Just nevers and becauses, water and salt.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

That’s all well and good, but it only takes one time of not making it to the morning. Dad was 56 before he didn’t make it to the morning…can I even make it that long?

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

A couple more cycles and then, finally, nothing. Sleep. A 50/50 chance the sleep gets me to the morning. A 50/50 chance I suddenly wake up two hours later unable to breathe, and the cycle starts over.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

HOLD ON TO THE PLANK.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go.

Cigars

I’m not short on vices, and my favorite one by far is smoking cigars.

I never would have guessed I’d pick up that habit, but I’ve had it for a good seven years now and have no plans to quit.

I tried a cigarette once in college. Hated it and couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth all afternoon. That was the first and last thing I lit on fire in my mouth until I decided to try a cigar.

I don’t have any recollection of when exactly I smoked my first cigar or who I was with. I feel like Mike Carroll was involved but not entirely sure. Regardless, it certainly didn’t become a regular thing for quite a while. I was maybe smoking one cigar a month, and this was low-quality shit we’re talking about. I ordered a starter kit from an online site. It was a tin humidor, 30 sticks, and a lighter that broke the second time I used it for $30. Might as well have been smoking sticks from the backyard.

All of that changed one fateful day when a buddy of mine who was a serious cigar aficionado said he needed to offload some of his inventory. He was smoking about seven cigars a day and wanted to get that down to three or four, so he was getting rid of the cigars he kept in his office at work. I met him over there and he gave me about 120 sticks, a really nice humidor, and two travel humidors for $300. The humidors alone were probably worth almost that much, and these were some fine cigars. Now that I know more about cigars, I know that those cigars would have averaged more than $10 per stick retail. And he had obviously taken care of them so they were perfectly fine. If I were smarter, I probably would have just re-sold all of that stuff immediately and made a quick $1000 but I wanted my mouth to smell like ash for the next 40 years.

The funny part of the purchase was when my buddy pulled out the five-cigar travel humidor. He showed it to me and said, “Now, what if you go to Vegas for a weekend? Are you going to want to smoke five cigars?” I shook my head no, because at that time five cigars was enough to get me from Memorial Day to Halloween. “No,” he said. “You’re going to want a lot more than that, which is why I’m giving you this 18-cigar travel humidor as well.”

(Postscript: I still have the 18-stick humidor, but the only time it’s ever had cigars in it was when I went home from his office. That’s because all three humidors were filled to the max to hold my 120 cigars. I still use the five-cigar humidor every time I go out of town though.)

That initial jackpot stash eventually disappeared, but another buddy who belonged to the same cigar lounge started selling me his excess product every time I ran low, and he also gave me great deals on them. A couple of poker buddies who don’t smoke have also gifted me some really good cigars.

Naturally, once I started smoking these higher-end stogies I started liking the whole concept a lot more. Still, I was only smoking about once a week until maybe a year ago, when I started averaging two or three.

Then this dang coronavirus thing hit. Suddenly, I was out of work. Check. The weather was beautiful almost every night. Check. And I was teaching school for all four of my kids every day. Checkmate. I started smoking every day. Occasionally even throwing a second cigar into the mix.

Let this be a lesson to the kids out there. Don’t let a lack of income or increasing personal responsibility keep you from destroying your lungs, even if there’s a global pandemic going around that also destroys your lungs.

Honestly though, there’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting on the back porch at the end of the day and relaxing, looking up at the gorgeous sky and moon, and smoking a cigar while drinking either a good beer or a couple ounces of bourbon.

Usually I like to play bridge online while I smoke. I love the game and there are ample breaks to sneak a puff or look into the sky and just breathe. Last night I got the trifecta because I kicked butt at bridge, enjoyed the cigar and listened to the Cubs win a baseball game on the radio, all at the same time.

Cigars are also a great way to have some much-needed bro time. It usually takes at least an hour to fully enjoy one, so you get past the “Hey, how ya been man?” stuff and into some deeper topics. I have a couple buddies who I get together with every once in a while, and it’s really good for the soul. My college roommate Keith, who now lives in France, came back stateside for a visit and we discovered that we’d both picked up cigars since our college days. We got together with a couple other college friends at a lounge and told the same old stories and played dominoes like we used to back in the day. It was one of the best nights of my life, and we’ve done the same thing a couple more times since when he’s come back for visits.

Made the mistake of leaving some of my cigars in my friend James’ car one time. He doesn’t even smoke but defiled all of them anyway.

There are some really nice places to smoke now, my two favorites (besides my back porch) being the Pub W in Norman and the BURN lounge up north by Top Golf. They don’t have the music on so loud that you can’t talk, and now that sports are kind of back they have those on the TVs. Smoking outside when it’s 100 degrees with humidity is too much even for me.

Generally, I prefer the more full-flavored, earthy cigars. Drew Estates is my favorite line, and the Liga Privadas are my favorite offering of theirs. In fact, I’m smoking a T52 right now. I recently got a box of My Father’s, and they are excellent as well. There are lots of great cigars out there and I like to keep a variety in stock. I can’t stand the sweetened cigars, and the super-mild ones with no flavor are a waste of time. But I’ll give pretty much anything else a whirl. I usually get bigger sticks, because if I smoke a short one I’ll end up wanting another one, which can sometimes be overkill.

Every once in awhile, the cigars will kinda mess up my brain chemicals. I know I’m already walking the line as far as that goes, but it’s rare enough that I haven’t quit yet. Still, it does stink on those rare occasions when I end up feeling weird or depressed emotionally after smoking.

Speaking of stink, some of these stronger sticks will really do some damage to my breath. I’ll brush my teeth, gargle mouthwash, and I still can’t get to first base with Missy because of the smell. I can’t blame her, I wouldn’t come near myself either if I had a choice. Cost of doing business.

I’m not the only one who has increased the cigar use during the pandemic. The last time I went into the cigar shop, the cashier said they’ve had record numbers since they’ve reopened.

I probably need to cut down on my cigar use. But I probably won’t, at least not anytime soon. Like somebody once said, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Worst Dates

Last week Missy and I went on a date, part of which involved walking around the campus at OU. As we passed by buildings, we remembered classes we once took in them. As we walked through a garden in between buildings, we remembered walking through that very garden on one of our first dates and sitting on a bench talking.

As we walked on the North Oval, we passed by a college-age couple who appeared to be on a date. They had blankets out with some wine and cheese between them. But they were sitting six feet apart and both wore masks. What a weird sight.

I can’t imagine dating in the year 2020. My dating career lasted from roughly 1996 to 2005, and at best I was a league-average player. But I do have some entertaining stories to show for it.

The foundation for my dating woes was laid in elementary school. In third grade I developed a crush on a girl. One day, one of her friends walked up to me, told me the girl liked me and asked if I liked her back. This was the moment I’d been waiting nine years for! I got so nervous that my response was, “No way, she’s gross.” So that didn’t quite pan out.

In sixth grade I got another crush, and this time I locked up my first ever girlfriend. On the last day of school, I asked her to be my girlfriend and she said yes. Then she gave me her number. Then school let out for the summer. Despite my procurement of said phone number and the fact that we only lived three blocks away from each other, I never called or saw her. I thought about her a couple times. Told some people I had a girlfriend. But a month or so later I decided I needed to spread my wings and fly. No more locking this stallion up in the barn. I called her up — literally the only time I ever called her — and said we should just be friends. What a whirlwind romance.

I didn’t have a real girlfriend or go on a real date or have a real kiss until I was a sophomore. Back then the prom was only for juniors and seniors. Anyone else could go but they had to be with a junior or a senior. When I was a sophomore, my girlfriend was a senior. I assumed that she would want to go to her senior prom, and I did NOT want to attend the prom. None of my friends were going. I didn’t particularly care for her friends. I’ve always hated dressing up and formal events of any kind. So I did the responsible, mature thing and broke up with her without giving a reason or even discussing prom. Then, when she agreed to go to prom with another dude (just a friend), I tried to woo her back as my girlfriend. That worked out about as well as you might imagine.

The next year I started a three-and-a-half year relationship. (Even though many of you will know some of the people I’m talking about in this blog, I don’t want to include names since I didn’t ask their permission and they might not want anyone to know they were ever associated with me.) I went to prom with her twice, which actually turned out to be kind of fun.

She was a year older than I was and went to college in Texas during my senior year of high school. One weekend I went to visit her, and we were doing a little smoohcie-smoochie at the end of our date. I noticed that there seemed to be a little extra slobber than normal. (Can’t say that 18-year-old Matty Frankles was the best or neatest kisser in the world, so on its own this didn’t seem worrysome.) But quickly it became apparent that this was not in fact slobber. My nose was bleeding all over both of us. And not just a little blood. It was messy.

[Gross sidebar, skip to next paragraph if not interested: I actually had a nose issue that required surgery within a couple weeks of this incident. Sometimes my nose would just start pouring blood and wouldn’t stop, particularly if the temperature changed suddenly. Happened a couple of times when I would walk out of school and it was particularly hot or cold outside. And a couple of times in class when the heat or AC would kick on. Quite embarrassing, but this was the only time it happened while I was making out. I got a deviated septum from a basketball injury, and no skin was growing over the wound, which was way in the back in my nose. So if anything dislodged the scab it would just pour blood. They cauterized it during the surgery and I haven’t had a problem with it since.]

The bloody nose did not end our relationship, but eventually it fizzled out and I was back in the game. And since my nose was no longer at risk to randomly spew blood onto women, I was an especially eligible bachelor. I found a very nice girl at OU and we dated for a good six months. Things were going smoothly until one night when she took me home to meet her parents. There was nothing at all wrong with her parents. They were just as nice as she was and we got along great. The problem came when we all sat down at the kitchen table to play a game of rummy. She attempted to play a straight, but laid down a 5, 7, 8. I politely pointed out that she did not have a straight. She apologized and proceeded to lay down a 4, 5, 7. It was at that moment I knew we could never be together.

In hindsight, I realize that she was a perfectly intelligent person and that I was a complete douchebag. But we can’t change the past, so I hope she’s living her best life and knows how to read her cards now.

Next batter up was another chick I went to OU with. At the time, my net worth was in the low triple digits, and my first-date budget was about $10. I got off especially cheap on this date, as I talked her into just getting a slushy at Classic 50s. Saved about $8 on that deal. We took the slushies back to her apartment and watched TV while we ate them. She talked a lot about her ex-boyfriend, and it was apparent there were a lot of unresolved feelings there. Not long after we got back to her place, her phone rang. It was her ex-boyfriend, calling to say he’d been stalking us. He accurately told us what car I drove and what we were both wearing. And he was in the parking lot of her apartment as he called. That was my cue to get the hell out of there. Those two actually ended up getting married.

I started dating Missy the last semester before I graduated from OU. After I graduated and moved to Lawton, we had an on-and-off thing for a few years because I didn’t like doing the long-distance deal. She still had a couple years of college left, so even though we remained close and talked the whole time, we weren’t officially together for most of it.

I never had another girlfriend but I did go on some dates. I got set up on a blind date which was comically disastrous. Before our appetizers even arrived, we were making small talk and she asked what my favorite TV show was. I said “Seinfeld” and she responded by saying that was completely inappropriate and un-Christian. I almost asked for the check right then. She also notified me that our children would be home schooled. If that was a deal-breaker then she needed to know so we wouldn’t waste any more of our time. I told her the deal was broken long before then. I kind of wanted to get water thrown in my face but settled for never seeing her again the rest of my life.

One night I drove up to Oklahoma City for a birthday party at Groovy’s for my college roommate Keith. I met a girl there and we exchanged phone numbers before I drove back to Lawton. I still didn’t own a cell phone at this time so this was my home number. When I got back to Lawton, I had 20 messages from this chick. Maybe she thought I had given her a cell number and could have talked on the drive home but that wasn’t the case. At first the messages were friendly but increasingly got more psycho, like “I guess you never were interested in me. Fine, don’t call me back then. I don’t know why you gave me your number in the first place.” I definitely would have called this girl at some point if she hadn’t outed herself as a complete psycho before I even got home. For about a week I enjoyed listening to one or two crazy voicemails from her per day before she finally gave up.

By this time my net worth had increased dramatically from my college days. I went from being worth hundreds of dollars to maybe $1000. I was making a cool 25 grand per year working for the newspaper (pre-tax), so my first-date budget doubled all the way to $20. Suddenly, Chili’s was in play.

Once, I agreed to meet a girl during my one-hour dinner break at work. We had mutual friends and had done a little flirting at previous group hangouts but I didn’t necessarily consider it a date. More like a pre-date date since I only had an hour anyway. We went to an Italian place, she ordered a $20 glass of wine and alligator-armed the check. I had planned to pay originally but thought it would surely be a split when she ordered the wine without consultation. There went my Blockbuster Video budget for the month! Our odds of eternal love vanished along with all of the $48 in my wallet.

I went on two or three dates with one chick, then decided there wasn’t anything there. I wasn’t sure if we had been out enough to qualify for an official breakup or if I could just ghost her and still be within the rules of social norms. I was on the phone with a longtime female friend and told her the situation. I don’t remember whose idea it was but I ended up giving my friend this girl’s phone number, and she called saying she was my girlfriend and she’d better stay away from her man. The chick cussed me out to my friend, said she didn’t know anything about it and I was able to ghost in peace. Mature beyond my years.

Perhaps my most entertaining relationship was one that I was never in. I got off from work at midnight and frequently talked to Missy on the phone after work. So when my home phone rang at about 12:30 a.m. one night I assumed it was her. It was not. It was a dude with a heavy bit of hillbilly in his voice.

[Language warning on this story]

“Is this Matt Franklin? The one that writes the sports stories for the newspaper?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“I got your number from the phone book.”

“Ok…”

“Are you fucking my wife?”

“I’m just going to say no, but you’re going to have to be more specific. I have no idea who you are, who your wife is, or what you’re talking about.”

“Her name is (redacted/I don’t remember anyway).”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met her.”

“She’s got huge tits, big J-Lo type-ass. Dark hair. Are you fucking her?”

“I’m pretty sure I have never met her before and we certainly have never slept together. I promise man, I’m not sleeping with your wife.”

“Oh, I don’t care if you are. I’m kicking her ass out of the house and wanted to know if you wanted to come get her stuff and move it in with you.”

“I wasn’t lying, sir. I don’t know her.”

“Well, that figures. She’s a fucking liar. We got in a fight and she pointed at your picture in the newspaper and said she was sleeping with you. I looked you up in the phone book to see if you wanted to live with her sorry ass because I’m done with her.”

“Sorry man, can’t help you out.”

“Alrighty then buddy, you have a good evening.”

Click. Never heard from him again.

After searching everything Lawton had to offer for three years, my only option was a huge-tittied, big J-Lo-type ass married woman I’d never met. Meanwhile, I knew an awesome girl in Norman who was a semester away from graduating. I could tell she was getting tired of my non-committing butt and I didn’t blame her. So I proposed and we got married two weeks after she graduated. This August will mark our 14th anniversary.

Missy — thanks for being the perfect person for me. Thanks for putting up with my nerdiness, my insecurities and my bullshit. We make a pretty good team. I love you.

April 19, 1995

Anyone who considers themselves an Oklahoman knows this date by heart. They know where they were when they heard the news. They know how they reacted upon hearing that loved ones who worked downtown were — or weren’t — safe.

April 19, 1995 was the day our state (especially its biggest city) changed forever. Somehow, the 25 years since that tragedy have been the best 25 years Oklahoma City has ever experienced.

I’m sure you know the facts about what happened, but if you want a refresher I found this good, short history of it on the FBI website.

When you look at images like this, it seems like the death toll should have been even higher than the 168 who were killed on April 19, 1995.

The bombing touched everyone in their own way. My experience was not extraordinary, but I want to share it. For starters, it shows how different the world was in 1995 than it is in 2020, especially as it relates to technology and information. Also, my hope for this blog is that it’s something my children and grandchildren read in the future, and this is a significant event that needs to be remembered.

I was in 9th grade chemistry class. Occasionally, maybe once per month, our teacher would turn on the radio if we finished our classwork early. April 19, 1995 was one of those rare days. We usually listened to the morning show on KATT, which featured two guys named Rick and Brad doing the stereotypical morning show prank humor.

Ms. Austin turned on the radio sometime between 9:15 and 9:45 a.m. (the bombing happened at 9:02) and a reporter was giving very early reports of an explosion downtown. I remember my first thought was, “This is a morbid prank for Rick and Brad to be doing.” Within a couple of minutes it was apparent that this was no joke, although details were scarce and nobody really knew what had happened. Ms. Austin left the room in a hurry, and when she returned a few minutes later she turned the radio off and said she wasn’t supposed to talk about it.

The principals at Moore West decided not to make an announcement about the bombing and kept us from watching television coverage of it during school. From talking to friends, I know that other schools even within the Moore district took different measures and many allowed news coverage to be shown.

Still, word got around. There were all kinds of rumors, but very few facts. In 1995 virtually nobody had a cell phone and those that did certainly didn’t have internet on it, so without TV or radio there was no way to get real information about what was going on. All I knew was that there was an explosion downtown. My friend Kevin’s dad worked downtown, so I was worried about him, although I had no idea where exactly the bombing had taken place or how deadly it was. I couldn’t think of anyone else I knew who worked downtown.

I remember turning on the television as soon as I got home from school and watching the coverage. It was a Wednesday so we had church that night. We went to Draper Park Christian Church, but this was no usual Wednesday night class. There were frequent updates on members who worked downtown (like Kevin’s dad Terry, who was fine), efforts to get help to the medical community and those in need, and lots of prayer.

Things moved pretty quickly after that first day. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were swiftly brought to justice. Our next door neighbor was a higher-up in the Oklahoma City Police Department, and he gave me a piece of the Murrah building that weighed about five pounds. It’s an odd thing to have but it’s in our attic somewhere.

Downtown Oklahoma City was a dump in 1995. There was no NBA team, no NBA arena, no Bricktown ballpark, no canal. The Spaghetti Warehouse (RIP) was the only halfway decent restaurant down there and it wasn’t anything special. The whole area looked outdated, run down and unsafe.

The bombing certainly wasn’t singularly responsible for Oklahoma City’s revival, but it was a pivotal moment. We came together as a city and as a state, determined to pick each other up and recover from this tragic event. Soon we dedicated tax dollars and manpower towards making downtown Oklahoma City a cool place to be. Once we got the arena, canal and ballpark, restaurants and bars flooded in. (Now for some reason we have an unnecessary trolley, but that’s another story).

In 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated. Missy and I visited once. If you haven’t been I would highly recommend it. It’s very chilling but extremely well put together. It makes you realize how fleeting this life can be, and also how resilient a community can be when it bands together.

The Oklahoma City Memorial

The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon has been a cool tradition over the last couple of decades, although this year’s run is postponed until the fall because of COVID-19. Missy ran the half marathon twice, once while she was pregnant!

When our kids are a little older, we’ll all visit the Memorial together. It feels weird to commemorate this major anniversary of such a huge event in the history of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City without being able to gather publicly. But such are the times we are living in. We can survive this, just like we survived a guy who tried to blow up our city and our spirit.

Lists

  1. Yes, I’m bored.
  2. Opinions my own. Your disagreements will be heard, then summarily dismissed.

High School Memories

  1. Making dumb videos with Chad and Kevin
  2. Junior prom
  3. Getting a 15-yard penalty for our football team from the press box
  4. Getting threatened by the band for making fun of them in the newspaper
  5. First kiss (Twas a bit sloppy)

College Memories

  1. Meeting Missy
  2. Dominoes, PlayStation football and the Seinfeld/Conan/Cheaters nightly trilogy at the apartment
  3. All the OU football games (especially the national championship)
  4. Banter and invaluable experience in the OU Daily newsroom
  5. Baseball road trips to Arlington, Houston and St. Louis (plus a graduation celebration trip to KC, STL, Milwaukee and Chicago)

Lawton Memories

  1. The camaraderie with the sports staff at the paper (as well as fun trips to Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Houston and Kansas City to cover OU football games)
  2. Running pick and roll with Chuck at the Y
  3. Post-poker Whataburger or Junction with Spike
  4. Everyone (especially the youth group) at Carriage Hills Christian Church
  5. Meeting and working with so many great coaches and athletes at the local high school

Cool Sports People I Interviewed at The Lawton Constitution That You Wouldn’t Expect To Give An Interview to The Lawton Constitution

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Sugar Ray Leonard
  3. Bryce Harper
  4. Pete Carroll
  5. Your favorite OU football Heisman winner

Vacations with Missy

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Paris
  3. Chicago
  4. Playa Mujeres
  5. Surprise Vegas birthday weekend
  6. India
  7. San Antonio/Houston spring break trip
  8. Miami
  9. Phoenix
  10. Thailand

My Idea of a Good Time

  1. Laughing with family and friends
  2. Pickup Basketball
  3. Playing bridge
  4. Beer at a baseball game
  5. Cigar on the back porch

Pickup Basketball Trash Talk Lines

  1. We need to switch the teams up?
  2. Want me to guard him? (Yes I will trash talk my teammates)
  3. Get a drink of water, Marcus
  4. 7-0 skunk?
  5. Good effort

Things Heard in My House

  1. Loud screaming
  2. Loud crying
  3. “That’s not fair”
  4. “I’m telling”
  5. “Can it wait a minute? I’m trying to poop in here”

Cereals

  1. Peanut Butter Crunch
  2. Cheerios
  3. Captain Crunch
  4. Banana Nut Crunch
  5. Bite size Frosted Mini Wheats

Fast Food Restaurants

  1. Whataburger
  2. Chipotle
  3. Raising Cane’s
  4. Schlotzky’s
  5. Little Caesar’s

OKC-based Restaurants

  1. Charleston’s
  2. Johnnie’s
  3. Swadley’s
  4. Tucker’s
  5. Ted’s

Non-alcoholic Beverages

  1. White Monster
  2. A&W Root Beer
  3. Pure Banana Snow Cone Juice
  4. Peach Tea Monster Rehab
  5. Coke

Alcoholic Beverages

  1. Bourbon/Rye Whiskey
  2. IPA
  3. Other craft beer
  4. Red wine
  5. Everything else sucks

Rock Bands (2000-present)

  1. Chevelle
  2. Breaking Benjamin
  3. 10 Years
  4. Staind
  5. Seether

Rock Bands (1990-1999)

  1. Nirvana
  2. Weezer
  3. Tool
  4. Pearl Jam
  5. Stone Temple Pilots

Obscure 1990s Rock Bands I used to get down to

  1. Starflyer 59
  2. Poor Old Lu
  3. Blenderhead
  4. Roadside Monument
  5. Joe Christmas

Rappers

  1. Eminem
  2. Lupe Fiasco
  3. Tupac
  4. Jay-Z
  5. Ice Cube

Non-rock, non-rap musical artists

  1. Radiohead
  2. John Mayer
  3. Coldplay
  4. Wilco
  5. Travis

Sitcoms

  1. Seinfeld
  2. Curb Your Enthusiasm
  3. How I Met Your Mother
  4. Parks and Rec
  5. Family Guy

Saturday Night Live Cast Members

  1. Will Ferrell
  2. Eddie Murphy
  3. Chris Farley
  4. Jimmy Fallon
  5. Andy Samberg

Dramas

  1. The Wire
  2. 24
  3. Boardwalk Empire
  4. The Practice
  5. Law and Order

(Side note: Season 1 of True Detective is the greatest season of drama ever but as a full series it doesn’t make the list.)

Non-Fiction TV Shows

  1. 30 For 30
  2. Impractical Jokers
  3. HBO Real Sports
  4. Shark Tank
  5. Pawn Stars

Baseball Movies

  1. Field of Dreams
  2. A League of Their Own
  3. The Sandlot
  4. Major League
  5. 42

Non-baseball movies

  1. Rounders
  2. Anchorman
  3. The Departed
  4. Rain Man
  5. The Big Lebowski

Philadelphia Eagles (1985-present)

  1. Randall Cunningham
  2. Brian Dawkins
  3. Reggie White
  4. Brian Westbrook
  5. Jeremiah Trotter

Chicago Cubs (1985-present)

  1. Ryne Sandberg
  2. Greg Maddux
  3. Anthony Rizzo
  4. Sammy Sosa
  5. Ben Zobrist

Baseball Stadiums I’ve Been To

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. Kauffman Stadium (KC)
  4. PNC Park (Pittsburgh)
  5. Target Field (Minnesota)

Baseball Hats I Own

Sporting Events I’ve Covered

  1. 2000 Orange Bowl
  2. OU vs Nebraska 2000 (#1 vs #2)
  3. OKC-Golden State 2016 NBA Western Conference Finals Game 6 (that one hurt)
  4. 2007 Fiesta Bowl (OU vs Boise State)
  5. 2002 NCAA Final Four

NBA players

  1. Lebron James
  2. Michael Jordan
  3. Don’t @ me

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.

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.

Charity

In the month of December, our household gets eight pieces of mail per day. Four are Christmas presents Missy ordered on Amazon, and four are letters from nonprofits soliciting donations.

Some of these places we’ve never even donated to. But it’s the end of the year, which means not only Christmas but also end-of-year tax deduction season.

Seems like an appropriate time to share our family’s thoughts and actions on charitable giving.

I grew up in a family that always stressed giving back to God. Every Sunday, I watched my parents put a check into the offering plate. A mailman and a schoolteacher with three kids, we were the definition of a middle class family in the 1980s and 1990s. We had everything we could ever need but not much more, so I understood the sacrifice my parents made by giving up 10% of their income every week. They didn’t view it as a sacrifice, however. They just saw it as being obedient to God.

So when I got my first jobs as a 16-year-old, writing for the local newspaper and bagging groceries at the old Buchanan’s, I immediately got in the habit of tithing that 10% from every paycheck.

I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained that habit for the past 25 years, although my reasons for doing so and the places that the money goes to have changed quite a bit over that time.

For years, I just gave the 10% to my local church, be it in Oklahoma City or Lawton once I moved there. It’s a habit that the church writ large does a relentless job in helping form.

I don’t want to make this post into a theological debate, and I don’t want to dump onto an institution that on the whole has done great things and helped countless people both in a spiritual and physical sense.

To put it simply, many churches (including the one we currently attend) believe that the Bible instructs its followers to give 10% to their local church. I used to share this but no longer do. You have to jump through some Biblical hoops to come to this belief, and I’d be happy to discuss it with anyone who wants to but don’t want to get into it here.

In a recent sermon at Draper Park Christian Church, my friend Clay Atchley did a great job of showing how Jesus and his disciples embodied the spirit of giving in a more extreme but less formulaic manner. The early church essentially gave everything to everyone. Instead of setting aside 10% of your pre-tax carpenter’s paycheck, you literally opened your home up to anyone who needed a place to stay or a meal to eat, even if it left you with nothing.

I also believe in helping others from a social/political standpoint. I want less government in my life. Less taxes. But we as a society have to take care of the less fortunate people who can’t take care of themselves. That means everyone who can needs to chip in so we can keep the government out of it. And yeah, we take the tax deductions when we donate.

Over time, I have been moved to give less and less money to the actual church and more and more to a variety of people and organizations. I should point out that thankfully Missy and I are in lockstep on this so it hasn’t been a source of friction.

Despite my changing views, the amount we give is essentially the same. But where I used to view 10% as a Biblical amount needed to be obedient to God, I now just view it as a good number that allows us to make a difference.

Because of poker, our monthly income fluctuates quite a bit. At the end of the month, we sit down and decide what to do with that 10%. Usually one or both of us has something on our heart so that’s what we’ll do.

About once per year, that 10% does go back to our church. I believe our church does a lot of great things for people.

Sometimes, our support goes to charities that we’ve personally volunteered with. The Regional Food Bank, Special Olympics, City Rescue Mission, Cookson Hills and Habitat For Humanity all fall under that, and I know I’m leaving some great ones out. Some of those have a religious element to them and others don’t, but Missy and I believe in what all of them are doing and love being able to help a little.

Many times, our 10% doesn’t involve an official organization. If some of our family or friends is in a time of need, we will help. It’s this kind of thing that I believe embodies what Jesus and his disciples were trying to communicate.

I don’t write any of this to make us seem like great people. Missy is great. I hate myself a pretty high percentage of the time — doing our monthly donations is one of the times I don’t.

I’d also love to learn about new places or causes to donate to. What moves your heart to action? Put them in the comments so we can learn more.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Tax Deduction Season to you all.