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Sunday, November 30, 2003


Christmas Tree LightsSilver and Gold II

Saturday I made the annual trek to the attic to retrieve the Christmas decorations. We do not have inside access to our attic so I have to get the extension ladder out of the shed and take the side attic cover down. That sucker is heavy, but I have a system in which I slide it down the ladder. It was pretty cold this morning which made this task even less appealing. I told the boys to come out and help me get the stuff. After an obligatory head slam into a rafter and a few curse words, I located the general area for the Christmas decorations. The antifreeze box contains the nativity set my mother made in ceramics. The Bose speaker box from the home theater system I got a couple of years ago holds the garland we put on the front porch. All of the satin balls are in an Oster bread maker box. The boxes are covered with duct tape and masking tape, remnants of more ambitious packing from years past. The artificial tree was in a long box reinforced with rope which served as a good handle to hand the box down from the attic to John on the ground. Once all the decorations were inside it looked like a chaotic mess. I immediately set up the tree and realized it was too big for where we wanted to put it this year. After some discussion, we decided to purchase another tree, smaller this time. I took the tree apart and put it back in the long box and retied it.

Speaking of trees, Barbara and I had an annual Christmas tree argument we reenacted each year. The first few years we were pretty passionate in our arguments, but as time passed we only mouthed the words out of obligation to Venus and Mars. Here is how it went. We either drove to a Christmas tree lot or a farm where we could cut one down. This task was reserved for a weekend and around important football games. Once at the lot or the Christmas tree farm, we demonstrated drastically different tree selection styles. I was less discriminating than Barbara. She thought my standards were too low, while I thought she was much too picky. We were probably both right.

I was the one to find the tree. "Hey Barb," I would yell across two or three rows of trees. She would look up, "come here and look at this one." Once on site, Barbara would find a flaw in it, "it's got a hole in it on this side." I would lobby for the tree's selection, "they all have holes, all we do is make the hole face the back." Unimpressed, Barbara would not declare the search over, "let's keep looking." I would say something sarcastic, "you ain't gonna find a perfect tree." She would respond, "well there has to be one better than that last one you showed me." This was the argument in a nut shell. We would get up in arms, bitch a little bit, then laugh at the irony of fighting when we were supposed to be building Norman Rockwell moments for "the beast" (John). We always found a tree though and it always did a great job.

This year we decided to get a new tree already with the lights. Things just get better and better. Long story short, we bought one at Wal-Mart and brought it home. Ever since I can remember, seeing that tree all lit up for the first time gave me a thrill. It still does. So many memories. Looking at the ornaments also rustles up the recollections. The elf painting the ribbon candy, the snowman, the Santa Claus, the kansas City Chiefs ornament - all trigger memories. Opening the ornament boxes is like opening a time capsule. What we have is a collection of our purchases and hand me downs from our families. We still have our first tree, a $5.00 special from Walgreens complete with a dozen lights and a few ornaments. I bought the tree for Barbara when we were in school in New Orleans for her dorm room.

Christmas is coming and with it comes a flood of memories from childhood right up to the present. Christmas is magic and electric. Christmas is a birthday party. Christmas reminds me about priorities in life. I hope the memories Christmas wells up in you are lovely and cherished. And remember, the things you do this Christmas will be memories next Christmas.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, November 29, 2003


The Best Laid Plans. . .

My chores ran into more than I had planned. I will not have time to write the post I wanted to because I am still living it. I will write it this evening and have it ready for tomorrow. I feel obligated to keep my readers informed.

On a funny note, I am following LSU football. They are ranked number 3 presently so the way the BCS is it would help LSU for certain teams to win. One such team is the Georgia Bulldogs. I flipped the TV on this morning while going about my tasks and tuned to the Georgia v. Georgia Tech game. It was 48 to 48 in OT. Man, I thought, I missed a real classic. John and I finished watching the game screaming and yelling as usual. The game did not turn out the way I wanted. Georgia Tech intercepted the ball in the end zone. Then they got into field goal position and kicked, but the kick was blocked. Georgia Tech got another chance because they recovered the ball and they had kicked on 3rd down for just such a happening. The next kick split the uprights and Georgia lost. Damn, when I pull for a team it is the kiss of death for them. Then the game cut away and the announcer said, "you just saw a classic battle between the Georgia Bulldgs and Georgia Tech, thanks for tuning into ESPN Classic. The frigging game happened a few years ago. I was yelling at a tape. What a laugh we all had. Turns out Georgia beat Georgia Tech today 34 - 17. Maybe I am not the jinx I thought I was.

Until the next time
John Strain


Silver and Gold

I have a few chores to do this AM and will not get to write my post until this afternoon. I plan to write about Christmas decorations. Until then, I will share an interesting fact with you:

Have you ever noticed ducks flying in a V pattern? Have you also noticed one line is always longer than the other? Do you know why that is? The one line is longer because there are more ducks in it. Oh stop groaning and use this on one of your friends.


Friday, November 28, 2003


Just A Thought

The joy of giving may not seem like joy when fighting the crowds today on the busiest shopping day of the year. Some love the challenge and competition of this day. Me? I would rather take a hot poker in the eye than have to go to the mall today. When it comes to shopping, the internet is for me. I can get EXACTLY what I want. I do not have to settle for blue when I really want green. I am aware of all available options and usually get the best price. Still, zillions of people take to the malls and stores. They start early too. My son works at Circuit City and their store opens at 6:00 AM. I often hear the complaints about the commercialism tied to the holidays and the expectations. If that is to change, it must change in our own behavior. I am not envisioning a complete reversal of our culture, but I do have a few suggestions.

Find a way to make your giving personal. The best gifts I have ever received were from someone's heart. Anyone can buy an item, wrap it beautifully, and put it under a tree, but giving something meaningful requires a bit of intimacy. My suggestion is to figure out who on your list is more of an obligation and who are your intimates. For the latter group spend some time thinking about them. What do they like to do? What is your connection with them? What are your private events, moments, and experiences? Give them something that makes them think of you. Think tickets to a play or a concert. Buy two and go with them. Think restaurant gift certificates. Purchase a day of beauty at a local spa. Give the gift of lawn service or maid service for a month or two. The key is to think about them. Write them a special Christmas note telling them what they mean to you. If you make things or do crafts, make something for them. This is the kind of thing they will like and in turn will warm your heart.

Do something for someone less fortunate. Buy a toy for Toys for Tots and take it to the drop center yourself. Give some of your time somehow. Help someone shovel their walk or bring some fresh baked cookies or candy to a friend or someone you know to be lonely. Go caroling with a church group. The key is to give some of yourself, not just your money.

Attend some holiday functions. I am talking about going to see Christmas light displays or going to the hotel that is always decorated so beautifully. Find out when the local schools and churches are doing their Christmas programs. You do not have to have a third grader to attend the third grade play. You will find innocence and enthusiasm there - two ingredients of the Christmas spirit.

Remember those who have gone on. Depression is lurking around the holidays. Loved ones have died and the holidays conjures sweet memories followed by feelings of profound loss. Instead of waiting for the depression to get you, go on the offensive. Actively remember and memorialize them. Give a gift in their name. Purchase a poinsettia in their name and give it to a nursing home or a church. Prepare the foods they liked or cooked and tell stories about them as you eat. The key is to flood the depressive thoughts with good memories. Celebrate their life more than mourn their absence.

Have fun for crying out loud. The obligations and duties are always there. Christmas will come and go whether you get them all done or not. If you are in the unenviable position of making everything happen, decide now you are not going to work yourself to death to do everything. Instead decide to do what you can and be willing to direct others if they want to help. If they do not, then let it go. So what if there are only two kinds of fudge and no homemade eggnog. Pour rum in anything, it will taste fine. Now, by letting go of the impossible work load, you have more time for fun. Watch Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase and do not miss Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and Frosty. Set up an Advent Calendar, have a snowball fight, build a snowman, visit friends, have friends over for a Christmas drink. These are the things that make the season joyous. When things get out of balance, folks get resentful, bitter, and do not enjoy themselves. It is not too late to have a wonderful Christmas.

Let the rest of the world do the same old stuff. Let them work themselves to death. Let them wake up on December 26 and say, "why did I work so hard? It's over, I feel empty." You instead will be saying, "I am so glad I took John's advice - I feel great - I enjoyed myself this year for a change."

It is your choice.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, November 27, 2003


Happy Thanksgiving

I awoke to the distant rumble of thunder. Pretty soon the rumble was accompanied by the pink flashes of lightening. Hobo, my old lab, nervous in storms, stirred about the room. The sound of flopping ears and tinkling dog tags brought me closer to consciousness as he nervously shook his head. I reached out my hand to pet him and to pat him giving him some assurance. I won't be running this morning, the rain has already started. I flipped on the television to catch the local weather and noticed the color green covering the whole region around New Orleans. Today we are headed north to Vicksburg, MS for Thanksgiving dinner with Barbara's family. It will be a stormy drive. I woke her up and she stirred, but snuggled back into the covers. Giving her a minute or two longer I shook her with more purpose. This time she sat up on the pillows and the process of waking began to work as the sleep slowly drained from her body. She crawled off to the shower, I made the coffee while watching the storm outside the window. Another Thanksgiving. All is well. It is storming outside, but I am safe and warm inside. I have so much for which to be thankful. All week fellow bloggers have detailed such things, family, friends, and other relationships top the list. Health is at or near the top. Other items are our freedoms, our things, and our open ended opportunities. I too am thankful for these things.

I am thankful men and women this day stand for me in Iraq. Whatever your politics; whatever theirs; they stand and fight to protect me and you and our way of life.

I am thankful for technology and this thing we now call blogging. Because of it, I now have friends in Canada, California, Georgia, Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, and other places in the world I did not have before July 19, 2003.

I am aware of other lives and am concerned and pull for you folks. I know you do the same for me. This brings me full circle. Relationships are what I am most thankful for. My relationship with God, my relationship with others, and my relationship with myself.

I am blessed and I know it. The resulting feelings are humility, undeservingness, thankfulness, gratitude, and joy.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends
Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, November 26, 2003


High School Basketball

For the last ten years or so, I have spent November through March going from one gym to another watching basketball games. My son began playing when he was seven years old. At times I complained about having to go to a game, there were things I needed / wanted to do, but I went anyway. I guess I figured if I did not go I would regret it some day.

John graduated last May and this is the first season he is not playing and the first season I do not have to attend games. I was surprised by a sadness I had because of this. I know the sadness goes beyond merely basketball and has something to do with my son growing up, but I still missed not being a part of this season.

Tonight, John called me at work and asked if I wanted to go with him to the Covington High School game. I jumped at the chance. I was not going to watch my son play, I was going with my son to watch his old team play.

As soon as we entered the gym, people recognized John. From players of teams, (a tournament was going on) to referees, to coaches, he was a celebrity. His old coach asked him to go with the team to the locker room for the pre game ritual. I know John was dealing with his own sadness. He commented how he wanted to play so bad he could not stand it.

I enjoyed sitting with my son watching the game. I tried to drink it all in. Here are some random observations about the game:

Entering the warm gym out of the brisk November air a man with a cash box takes my $6 for admission. I could smell popcorn and nacho cheese. The familiar bustle of gym activity was taking place. Kids in basketball warmups, cheerleaders, students, parents, and younger siblings all moving around, going about their tasks.

Tennis shoes squeak on the floor as the players stop, start, and cut. The piercing sound of the referee's whistle signals fouls and balls out of bounds. The rhythmic beat of the basketball being dribbled is a staccato heartbeat that draws attention to itself.

The crowd has energy and applauds or moans as the fates deal with their team. Coaches bark out advice - "would you set a screen," "we need some inside help here," and "come on ref." Players sit on the bench awaiting their turn to play. Parents in the stands wait for their son to get in the game. The scoreboard with two burnt out lights displays the score and keeps the time. Enjoy it while you may my friends, it all moves so quickly.

I am glad I went tonight. I am getting a taste of the transition of my son from boy to man. I like what I see. He makes me feel proud. I am proud because what I see in him is not me but him. He is becoming a person, independent, unique, and unfolding. I am blessed to be a father and to have him as my son.

I am both thankful and grateful for my son. I hope I have taught him half of what I have learned through him.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, November 25, 2003


The Best Toys

Maybe you have seen the comedy routine where the speaker says something like this:
These kids today. They don't know how good they've got it. Why, when I was a boy, the only toy I had was an old brick. My dad painted wheels on it and told me it was a toy car. I was damn glad to have it too.
I guess with the approaching holidays I was indulging my sense of nostalgia again. My mind drifted to Christmas's past and I recalled toys I had received. I thought about the money spent and how quickly I lost interest in them. I watched the commercials and wanted what they were selling. Kids fall for the advertiser's BS and ignore their parents counsel. I was no different. My son had every toy you could imagine before he wanted it. His room looked like a Toys R Us and it became difficult to think of something to buy him for Christmas and birthdays.

My parents were more like the comedian. Growing up during the Great Depression, the toys they had were usually homemade. As I continued to indulge my sense of nostalgia I remembered some items from my past that were virtually free. I will tell you about a few of them here:

I think the bottom line here is kids are going to have fun. If they do not have fancy, store bought toys, they will find some way to have fun. Play comes from within like anything worth anything at all.

I might add that as boys grow up they really do need money to have fun. I cannot fashion a box into a computer or big screen TV, but I am willing to donate the box my "big boy toy" comes in to some 10 year old boy to enrich his life like it did mine. I am all heart that way.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, November 24, 2003


House of Blues: Gospel Brunch

House of Blues TicketThe House of Blues in New Orleans is in the southwest section of the French Quarter. A favorite night spot for tourists and locals and host to many good concerts. It is a well run first class venue to attend concerts and just to have a good time. I have seen Hall and Oates, Peter Frampton, Buddy Guy, and then some. Sunday though, I attended my first Gospel Brunch and I am going back again.

This place has an energy about it. They must look for it when they do their hiring. I started out at the bar ordering bloody marys for the gang. The bartendress asked me if I wanted a bloody mary with Absolut vodka or the rot gut stuff. I told her that I would start with the Absolut and switch over when my taste buds could no longer distinguish premium vodka from rot gut. The next question she asked was how hot I wanted them. After checking with folks, I ordered 4 hot, 2 not hot, and 1 mild. All of the wait staff walked briskly, they smiled, and were pouring mimosas as fast as folks ordered them.

There are three of these brunches on Sunday, 9:00 AM, 11:45 AM, and 2:00 PM. We attended the middle one. When we entered the concert area, there were tables set all over the place. The floor in front of the stage, usually empty, was lined with tables. All of the seats were assigned, so there was no rushing the door to get the best seat. The way it was configured, I do not think there was a bad seat in the house.

As soon as we found our seats, we were greeted by our waitress who gave us some info and poured the coffee and mimosas. We immediately went through a buffet line with jambalya, greens, potatoes, sausage, eggs, pastry, biscuits, gravy, Waldorf salad, carving station, you name it. Food was great. We sat at our seats eating and enjoying the atmosphere. We sat in the balcony directly in front of the stage. The spots swept around the auditorium casting the bright blue light and illuminating the hall in ever-changing interesting ways. Once we finished eating, the show started.

Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the group that performed for us. It was a local group and very good. Funny how gospel singers are large. I do not believe I have ever seen a skinny gospel singer. Anyway, she was a lot of fun and not only sang the bulk of the songs, but featured people in her group. The crowd enjoyed the music. We waved the napkins on cue and clapped when we were asked to and had an all around good time. It is the kind of thing that makes you feel good to be alive and around a crowd of people. At one point in the show, the security guards off stage could be seen dancing to the music. it is the kind of music that grabs you by the nap of the neck and says, "dance." Most everyone there heeded that voice.

On the way out, the wait staff was busily cleaning and preparing for the next group of brunchers. They were yelling to each other, "One more show let's go." That is what I like to see, enthusiasm and effort to do your job well.

When my sister comes to New Orleans to celebrate her big 5 oh, we will certainly attend the gospel brunch. If you live near a House of Blues, check to see if they have a gospel brunch there - you won't be disappointed.

If you want to see some photos of the House of Blues you can find them here. You will have to scroll toward the bottom of the page.

My digital camera takes 12 sec. movies. I spliced a couple together in Final Cut Pro and made an mp4 movie which is about 3.7 mb. It should work with either Windows Media Player, Quicktime, or Real Player. The picture is pretty small, but you can get an idea of the music style.

Good music, good food, being with my friends - you can't beat it. I hope you get a chance to attend the Gospel Brunch yourself someday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, November 23, 2003


Link for New Orleans Photos


Huge Ass Beers

If you have never been to Bourbon Street you are missing a unique experience. I remember the first time I was there. It was in the summer and the sun was slipping below the New Orleans skyline. The neon lights were on and soon they would illuminate the crowds of people wandering up and down this unique street. It is easy to say something like, "oh, it is disgusting and dirty. It glorifies alcohol and sex. There are disgusting looking people around and it is not wholesome entertainment." To do so though is to miss a lot of other things. Back to my first time there, I was bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells that were new to me. I was enchanted and mesmerized. I was taken by the fact this place has existed for so long and I knew nothing of it. I fell in love with New Orleans that night and my love remains. Like any city it is far from perfect. New Orleans certainly has its problems, but it has a soul and a pulse that has been beating for hundreds of years. Pirates, plantation owners, slaves and soldiers - this city has witnessed and made history.

Saturday night we went walking on Bourbon Street after our dinner of shrimp and oyster poboys (big sandwiches on french bread). There are several kinds of people on Bourbon Street. The tourists are from anywhere in the world. They have heard of New Orleans and they are seeing it for perhaps the first time. The locals are there for similar reasons, but have an inside track on the good restaurants. Then there are the street performers. These folks do some kind of act or have some gimmick to trade for the tourist's money. America at its best - free enterprise. There are quite a few African American kids who tap dance for change. These kids are on random street corners or any place where people walk by. They often make their tap shoes by affixing bottle caps to the under side of their shoes. Outside of a bar featuring a live band these kids tap away and tourists throw their money as a sign of appreciation. You name it, mimes, clowns, magicians, they are all in the French Quarter and are an important part of the overall atmosphere.

One such gentleman had a sign saying, "Huge Ass Beers." He had quite a business, because people were all to happy to give him a few bucks to have their picture by the sign. At least we were. He was funny. The man had a thick Brooklyn accent and he went through a routine with us. He offered to take our picture using our cameras so we handed him our three digital cameras.
Him: Do you know anything about people from Brooklyn?
Us: A little.
Him: Well if you did you would know better than to give your expensive cameras to one. (he then acted like he was going to run away.)
Us: Ha,hahahahaha.
Him: Something else about people from Brooklyn, if anyone gives us trouble we say. . . (then he asks me to read what is on his neck, he leaned forward and moved his long hair out of the way exposing a big '4Q'.)
Me: 4Q?
Him: (indignant) Fork me? Fork you! What do you mean saying to me 4Q?
Us: Hahahahahahahah hahahah.

He took the pictures, we gave him a few bucks and walked on. That is one minute on Bourbon Street. Music is everywhere from the bars to the street performers. One fades out as the approaching ones fade in. One's senses are taken on quite a ride.

I am going to get my photos posted and work on tomorrow's post. So tune in tomorrow to find out about the House of Blues Gospel / Jazz Brunch.

Until the next time
John Strain


Still in N'awlins

We have been having the usual blast. I managed to drink one for everybody and a few extras. Just about to leave the hotel and head to the House of Blues Gospel Jazz Brunch. After that the trek north and home. I will watch the Chiefs beat Oakland, hopefully and write a proper blog about our fun. We got some great pictures and I have a story to tell about Bourbon Street.

Happy Sunday
John Strain


Saturday, November 22, 2003


Secret Santa

We are doing the secret santa routine at work. I tried to ignore it, but was eventually roped in. As you probably know, names are placed in a container and everyone draws. Now, what is expected is the secret santa gives little gifts, anonymously throughout December. At the Christmas party, you give a final gift and the secret santa is exposed and everyone talks in a high voice and laughs and it is all sweet and - and - and probably more interesting for the ladies than the men. Well, I am a good sport, so I draw a name, no big deal. I drew one of the night nurses, so it will be easy to slip her a gift. I can be secret, because she never sees me. Everything is fine, until I notice the container still has some names in it. I unwrap the first piece of paper and it is my name. What gives? I am supposed to be benevolent and giving when there is nothing in it for me? I am not giving any presents if I am not getting anything in return, screw the whole secret santa program. Just kidding folks. I am hoping some night shift people have not yet drawn, but those thoughts did cross my mind. The joy of getting. I may try to incorporate a little April Fools into the secret santa program. How would this work? I could give some real inappropriate presents to people and their secret santa would get the credit / blame. Let's see, I could give a 15X pair of drawers to someone, or maybe a bottle of mouth wash. I will have to give it some thought. Imagine the Christmas party, "so, you are the sick bastard who gave me the mouth wash, some secret santa you turned out to be, go screw yourself." Then the innocent secret santa is saying, "what, huh, what are you talking about?" I will be watching it all laughing like a mad scientist. It could be fun.

In another unrelated matter, I got another call from a tele marketer tonight. I wound up giving $15 to kids dying of cancer or dogs diagnosed with ADD or something. The point is I have a hard time saying no to some of these folks. Much of the time, I just say I am not interested and hang up the phone, but tonight, I just agreed to send the money. How many veterans organizations, police fraternities, and dying children causes are there? They all have my number. I fully expect to be solicited by a charity representing the "people who can't say no to charities" charity. That would be me.

The Napa Valley Marathon training is coming along well. Today is another 10 miler. I turned in my official online registration yesterday, so the goal has been officially set. There is something about paying the registration fee that makes it all real. I have to run now, no staying in bed or skipping days. To do so would be to have a bad marathon experience. Believe it or not, running 26 miles is not that bad if one trains for it. Still the best feeling is getting to stop running.

I am heading to New Orleans for some fun and will give a full report by Sunday evening. I hope you all have a great weekend.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, November 20, 2003


Pretty Nifty, Faye Is Fifty

Faye in TennesseeIt's a party weekend. This week's excuse / reason is Faye's 50th birthday. Of the four couples in our group, Faye is the third to turn 50. Faye keeps my friend Brian in line and that is no small task. The quietest one of our group, Faye is good with details and she volunteers to be the designated driver more than her turn. We celebrate each other's birthdays, anniversaries, and anything else we can think of. This weekend we are going to stay the night in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

New Orleans is certainly fun, but if you can be there with your friends it is a blast. We will spend Saturday eating and walking around, maybe a drink or two, then check into the hotel at 3:00 PM. The guys will watch the LSU vs Ole Miss game while sipping Jack Daniels (a southern tradition). The girls will probably check out the flea market or may hang out with us. After the game and a drink or two, we will walk to a restaurant in the French Quarter. The fare will be seafood, shrimp, crawfish, oysters, yes, yes, yes, YeeeES, YeeeES!!!! (to be read in a Meg Ryan voice as in the movie When Harry Met Sally). Topless Sign in New Orleans Depending on where we eat, we may go back to the hotel for a drink or two - or maybe just fix up a good walking around drink (large drink). It is OK to walk around with your drink in New Orleans. They all come out at night in the Quarter. People watching is great sport. Maybe I will put on a show for the tourists this weekend. We'll have to see. On Sunday we are going to the House of Blues for the gospel jazz brunch.

After all of that fun we return to the North Shore and look at the yard and house. We will say, we should have stayed home and cleaned the place up - NOT! My life would not be near as happy without my friends. Hopefully we will celebrate each other's 60th, 70th, and beyond. My sister Becky is going to be 50 this March and guess where she is going to celebrate it?

If anyone has any good celebration ideas for a 50th birthday, I am all ears. I found a site with the top ten games to be played at a 50th birthday:

Here's to 50th birthdays, to good friends, and to you Faye - you're just getting started.

Until the next time
John Strain


Coca Cola

Old Coke AdI was born in 1957 so my earliest memories were of the early 60's. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Shawnee, Kansas a suburb of Kansas City. In those days, money was tight. My father was a letter carrier before the term "going postal" had been coined. My mom was a housewife until I entered kindergarten. I was the youngest of three children. Anyway, one of the big treats in those days happened on Saturday night when our family sat in front of the television and watched "Saturday Night At The Movies." At some point during the movie, my mom would make popcorn and coke. Coke was a once a week treat then not an everyday thing like it is now. My mom bought coke in its most economical form - 16 oz. bottles. We drank the coke out of a glass with ice; no one got a whole bottle. I did not feel deprived because I had to drink coke from a glass, but I felt I was in the lap of luxury when I got to drink from a bottle.

We had an old corner drug store with a fountain inside. A glass of coke there was ten cents and the soda jerk would throw in a cherry at no extra charge. It came in a coke glass with two thin straws. To walk with a friend to Crown Drugs and drink one of those special treats was a big excursion in those days. If I was lucky, I had enough money for ice cream or maybe even a hamburger. The malts were made in those big stainless steel mixers. The mixer held almost another half of a malt and they gave it to you - ummm.

On the way to the drug store, my friends and I looked in ditches or alleys for coke bottles. The bottles had a deposit of two cents and the bigger bottles had a deposit of five cents. It was so cool to take a few bottles in to Van's Grocery Store and get cold hard cash for them.

Thinking about coke and coke machines conjures images of gas stations. Do you remember the old chest type coke machines at the local gas station? One had to either slide a glass or metal top to one side to get to the bottles. Some required lifting a door to see inside. Once the money was inserted, five or ten cents, you grabbed the top of the bottle and maneuvered it along some channels to the removal area. Now the trick was to pull the bottle straight out without letting it slip back down. The bottle was a little difficult to pull out, so it was common for people to pull it far enough to trip the mechanism, but instead of removing the bottle, let it slip back down. The gas station attendant was always aggravated with us when we did this. He would mutter instructions on how to properly work the machine as he fumbled through a ring of keys to open the machine and give us our coke.

I loved to get a coke at a gas station on a trip. The big red and white metal coke machine was a cool oasis offering anyone with a few coins soothing refreshment. There was no buying a coke and driving off either. If you bought a coke you hung around and drank it to avoid paying the five cent deposit. Once the coke was finished, the bottle went into one of the wooden coke cases usually stacked next to the machine.

When I got a little older, cokes were a quarter. My friends and I would drink a coke as we walked home from boy scouts after the Monday night meeting. By then, cans were the preferred container, but they were the cans a car could roll over without crushing. Those cans were heavy duty. I remember karate chopping those old cans. Boys need something to demonstrate their toughness. Every now and then a stray karate chop would hit the end of the can - that was painful for the person attached to the hand, but for everyone else it was a belly laugh.

Do you remember the coke commercials? "I'd like to teach the world to sing. . . " "Have a coke and a smile. . ." "It's the Real Thing." I am going to stop writing here. I am having a strange craving for a coke.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, November 19, 2003


No Sympathy for Football Players

I should have included this in my Pet Peeves post. I love football. Some players inspire me, but some players make me want to hurl. Two players in the latter group are Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp, both of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These guys are in the running for the least grateful, most whining, prima donnas ever to have played the game.

Warren Sapp compared his treatment by the NFL to slaves. He dishonors people who were slaves with his statements. Mr. Sapp is a spoiled baby. I do not usually wish people ill, but I think it would be great if he were thrown out of football and made to earn a living with his other skills. Let's see that would be moving furniture or working on a garbage truck.

Keyshawn Johnson is another baby who thinks his team does not feature him enough. Keyshawn makes that Leon fellow on the Budweiser commercials look humble. To their credit, the Bucs suspended Keyshawn for the rest of the season. He will be playing for another team next year. Same wish for Mr. Johnson as I had for Mr. Sapp. Get a job and earn a living more commensurate with your skills - lugging a piano to the third floor or mopping a floor.

It is no wonder the former world champion team is having trouble this year with jerks like these two on their team.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thinking About Death

I have been thinking about death lately. Not so much my death, but death in general. Maybe it is because this is November. Plants are dying, leaves are falling, and the world appears to be dying. The Greeks believed that Demeter, the goddess of agriculture caused the earth to bloom which was spring and summer. However, because Demeter's daughter Persephone had been tricked by Hades, the god of the underworld, she had to live in the underworld with him 6 months of the year. During this time, Demeter stopped things from growing - fall and winter.

There are other things which cause my thoughts to turn to death this time of year. A friend of mine died in November a few years back after a morning jog. I often run by the cemetery where he is buried and whisper a greeting as I pass. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in November of 1990 and died a few months later. My stepfather was dying of a brain tumor in 1997 and I said goodbye to him that November a few months before he died.

I did not think of these people or the dying plants first and then contemplate death. Instead I became aware I was thinking about death. Then these memories trickled out along with bittersweet emotions and thoughts. The longer I live, the more I ponder the cycles and circles of life. Each time I do, I end up with a feeling of gratitude and a renewed commitment to wring every drop of living out of life I can. Now, some of my loved ones only live in my memory, but others can still be hugged and enjoyed. I am following and being followed. It is good to be aware of both. Those who have gone before me are good examples of how to live and how to die. It is important to me that my life and death are also examples. Examples of how a grateful and happy man conducts himself in life and if given the chance the way he dies.

A line in the song "The Rose" which speaks to this is : "The soul afraid of dying never learns to live." During the holidays there seems to be increased depression among many. The fact loved ones are gone is magnified and the feelings are bittersweet as we enjoy the friends and family we have, but miss those who have gone on.

Perhaps this is why, when the world is at its darkest and symbols of death are pervasive, the Light of the world was born. Let this light warm you and give you hope. Accept it and pass it on. Therein lies the Christmas spirit.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, November 18, 2003


A Morning From My Past

I am a firm believer in learning a job from the ground up. That is how I learned the psychiatric hospital business. Since 1986 I have had a number of titles and job responsibilities. At one hospital, I was in charge of transportation - I was the only person in the hospital who could not drive. Some of my most memorable experiences came while I was a clinical associate in New Orleans. A clinical associate is a part of the nursing staff. CA's as they were called were flunkies - the bottom of the totem pole. We were the canon fodder who got to restrain a patient if he/she went out of control. We got to help the patients go to the bathroom or take a shower if they needed help. The CA's cleaned up the messes. It was one of the best learning experiences I ever had. Anyone going into psych who does not log time as a CA is missing out.

A typical shift started with report. The idea is to hip the oncoming staff to the current status of each patient. I liked report because it was a treasure trove of straight lines. Here is an example of what I am talking about: Nurse reading from clip board in monotone fashion, "Mr. Bates is still sexually inappropriate . . .he required redirecting for masturbating on the unit." Then I would say something like, "yeah, even as a young man he was referred to as Master Bates." On another occasion: Nurse reading from a clip board in monotone fashion, "Mrs. Smith was admitted last night from the ER. She threw hot water on her husband, then continued throwing objects like coffee cups and lamps. Mr. Smith ran out the door and she gave chase in the station wagon. In her attempt to run down Mr. Smith, she ran into a tree sustaining minor cuts and abrasions." Then I said, "huh, he must have used the 'C' word."

Report would conclude with the head nurse passing out the patient assignments. Depending on a few variables, a CA would work with 3 to 6 patients. One of my patients this particular day was in the seclusion room. This room was for patients who needed to be watched more closely or for patients who could not control their behavior. My patient was in for the latter reason.

Julius was a long shoreman. He was admitted because he was off of his medication and was acting bizarre. He was an African American about 5' 9" tall and weighed more than 200 lbs. He was stalky and muscular. There are a lot of things to do at the beginning of the shift. There is paperwork to get started, vital signs to check, sharps to pass out or put away, phone calls to make for patients, and lots of questions to answer. I was taking care of those duties when the unit secretary told me that Julius wanted to talk to me.

The unit was a big open area. A door from the unit led to a large inner staff room where we charted or had meetings away from the patients. The seclusion rooms abutted this area and the patients were visible through a large window on each room. There was only visual access from the charting area. To get into the seclusion one had to go out to the unit and in another door that was the hallway to access the seclusion rooms.

I went to see what Julius wanted and since I had not met him yet, I opened the door and introduced myself. He was sitting on his bed and did not acknowledge my introduction. He stared at me and said in a flat voice, "I want some orange juice." Responding to him I said, "OK Julius, I have to take care of a few things, but I will get it in about 5 minutes." With that, I locked the door and went to take care of those few things.

Julius had a different timetable in mind. Before I could do the next thing, the unit clerk opened the door from the staff area and yelled for me to come quick. I ran to the door to see what she was so excited about. Now here is what I saw. I had just opened the door from the unit and was looking down a hallway. The seclusion rooms were on the right and the staff area was on the left. Then I heard a loud crash and saw what turned out to be the bed suddenly protrude through the window. Broken glass was everywhere and the mini blinds clanked as they flew out from the impact. There was now access to the seclusion room without having to go around.

A million thoughts were going through my mind. Julius was walking around in his room trying to get the bed out of the window frame to, I figured crawl out and look for the orange juice himself. The crash got everyone's attention and the staff area was filled with CA's and nurses thinking out loud. "He's going to get out of there." "I thought those were shatter proof windows." "Oooooo what are we going to do." I do not remember how many of us went around to the access hallway, but we decided to take a mattress and hold it up to buffer us from this patient with an obvious OJ monkey on his back. Why a mattress? Someone heard that was the way to do it.

So here we are in the hallway. One guy was at the door with his key ready to turn. Me and about three others were holding a twin sized mattress sideways ready to rush the long shoreman. It had occurred to me that the mattress was covering me from the waste down and my hands were not free to protect me should Julius decide to hit me. Other staff were giving advice, "watch the glass." I had not been doing this sort of thing that long so I was pretty nervous. Something about the threat of physical harm makes me uneasy.

The word was given and the key was turned. The door was pulled open and what followed resembled a rodeo. If you have ever seen a bucking bronco burst out of the gate or a running back break through a line you have an idea of what Julius did. He charged right at me and we all converged in a mass of flailing and falling humanity. When the dust settled, I was on top of Julius. I have no idea how that happened, but we got him controlled and put in another room and I am sure gave him all the OJ he wanted.

After an incident like that everyone is relieved. The players relive the incident with a blow by blow account. When I walked into the staff room, the unit secretary who had seen the whole thing from the broken out window said, "John is a hero, he got on top of Julius and held him down." I stopped her right there, "Shoot, I was trying to get out of his way, but he ran straight for me. I fell on him by accident." We all laughed and slowly calmed down. it was only 8:30 AM and we had a whole day to work.

Most of my mornings are uneventful - and that is fine with me. Here's to routine mornings, they sure beat mixing it up with Orange Julius.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, November 17, 2003


Pet Peeves

I often do a Google search of a topic I choose for my post to see what's out there already. I think of pet peeves as little annoyances we tolerate. They bother us, but not to the extent we do anything more than bitch a bit. Envision a continuum with "slight annoyance" on one extreme and "rabid rage" on the other. I place pet peeves way down on the slight annoyance end of the continuum, but some people place it on the other extreme. If you want to see what I am talking about, search "pet peeves" on Google and visit a few blogs. Reading some of the pages I thought I could hear the venom dripping from their tongues and sense the lather being worked up. To these folks I would suggest decaf.

That said, here are a few of my pet peeves.

We choose how much energy we want to devote to complaining. To be problem focused fosters complaining. Solution focus is what resolves problems. I want to close by telling a story I heard from our minister.
A 10 year old boy was going fishing and stopped in at the local bait and tackle shop to purchase worms. The worms were kept in a big flat soil filled box behind the counter. An old yellowed piece of paper served as the sign and held the message - "Worms - 100 for a dollar." The boy asked an older man sitting on a stool behind the counter for a dollar's worth of worms. The old man set down his cup of coffee and walked to the worm box. Reaching up he took an old paper cup from the stack on the shelf. The man put a little dirt in the cup first, then he grabbed a big handfull of worms and plopped them in the cup. "There you are son," the man slurred due to the stogie hanging from his mouth. The boy stood there looking at the man. "Is something wrong son?" The man asked inquisitively. The boy said, "well, yes there is sir. How do you know there is 100 worms in this cup." The man looked very serious and his voice lowered. "Son, life's too short for counting worms.

I hope your pet peeves are not giving you too much trouble on this fine Monday, because "life's too short for counting worms."

In case you are interested here are some more Pet Peeves.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, November 16, 2003



It was a good night. Marty won the election by a margin of 18%. Knowing Marty has given me a somewhat inside look at local politics. Much of it is what one would expect. People are people and since many are unprincipled their actions are often more self serving than "done for the good of the people." I believe that character is important and is a predictor of how someone will function in various settings. For example, if a person is a selfish, vindictive sort it should not shock people if in office they devote a lot of energy to lining their own pockets and using what power they have to hurt anyone perceived as an enemy.

Bill Clinton was a known womanizer. There may be differences of opinion as to the extent - did he rape and abuse? I think most acknowledge he likes the ladies. So, once in office it should not shock us if he gets himself in a situation on the wrong side of his boxers. I am not the judge of mankind and I am not saying someone should be perfect or they are not fit for office. I am saying that we can predict what a person will do by looking at their past. People rarely change significantly. Bill Clinton had some character flaws. He was a womanizer, he was a liar, and his ego eclipsed everything. When these flaws manifested themselves in the spotlight of the presidency the Republicans attacked like sharks in chummed water. To their shame the Democrats defended the bad behavior. Not because they thought what Bill did was OK, but to hold onto their power.

What bothers me is people know the "truth" but ignore it unless it serves them well. Republicans demonize their enemies as do Democrats. Their cause is more important than truth and fair play. Unfortunately if one points out that something is not "true" they are accused of being naive. The message is "everybody lies, so it is OK." "Sure, candidate X is a scoundrel, liar, cheat, etc., but he is our man." Or, "Sure, candidate X did not really do anything, but we can make him look bad." What is amazing to me is we somehow advance and improve in this system.

This local election had these issues in it. The incumbent of 24 years was in the pockets of developers. He and his family had profited from his influence. His word was not good. In the campaign, after promising to be clean, he launched a massive negative blitz. Things were said about Marty I knew were untrue. What facts were mentioned were twisted to make him look bad. I was a little worried and not just worried my friend would lose the election. I was worried that if this scalawag could win like this, then the voters were being duped. I could not believe people would vote for the incumbent if they knew the truth.

People, the voters, the common man is not stupid. They see through the BS to the true motive. I do think there should be a higher standard in politics. Lying should be illegal. For crying out loud, in England Apple Computer had ads banned for what were thought to be false claims. We do not allow lying in court, but if all you want is to be elected then lie your tongue off - it's OK.

I am not one who thinks government should get involved in everything - even this issue. A law not to lie would be difficult to enforce. Bill Clinton questioned the meaning of "is." But what about the press????? They are supposed to be independent looking for the truth. Locally, that is not true. Campaign flyers are circulated that are so wrong it is not even a question, but the papers are silent. I imagine they do not want to upset a customer. Can you say principles and conflict of interest boys and girls? A few adjectives that come to mind are gutless, spineless, mercenaries, disgraceful.

At the height of the negative blitz against Marty we talked about why folks go through all of this torture. He wanted to say the heck with it a few times. Good folks do not like dealing with the childish, untrue, petty, unfair tactics hurled at them.

I am listening to Led Zeppelin sing Ramble On as I write this. I have rambled on a bit so I will close and try to summarize what I am trying to say.

  1. Character is important and a predictor of how someone will perform at a job.

  2. Our system is corrupt, but works in spite of the corruption.

  3. The strength of our country is every man and woman together not a few politicians.

  4. There are some good people in politics.

  5. I love this country.

  6. Politicians only get away with what we allow them to get away with.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, November 15, 2003



This may not resonate with some of my northern friends, but 39 degrees is cold to me. I am from Kansas City, but that was a long time ago. I am training for a marathon March 7 in Napa, California. That means Saturdays are long run days. Today is a 10 miler. It is dark and chilly. Once I get out there and get started it is OK, but getting started is the trick.

Today is election day for Louisiana. We are electing a Governor and locally, a new Parish Councilman for our district. Hopefully, that will be my friend Marty. If he does not win, that will put a damper on the victory party, but I am confident.

I had 52 visits to my site yesterday and some folks put me on their blog roll. Thank you all. Now I know what people want to read about. Actually, I think the trick is to cover a topic without getting vile. Insinuation is a great form of humor because the joke is not described as much as it is created in the person's own imagination. Still, there are few things funnier than a good "dick joke." I wonder if I should blog about farting or pooping? Let's see,
Q: What is brown and lays on the piano bench?
A: Beethoven's last movement
I will have to give it some thought. If you liked yesterday's post, then here are a couple from the archives you may also find funny. Mr. Herman and The Prostate Exam. Enjoy.

I have to go into work sometime this weekend and work up a new patient. That is the downside of Friday admissions. They have to be seen by their social worker within 48 hours. I will do that today so I do not have to interrupt football on Sunday.

I intend to write a proper post today, but wanted to throw out a few thoughts before I go on my run. I hope your Saturday is enjoyable and relaxing.


Friday, November 14, 2003


The Male Member

SquirrelMen like to brag about their member. They often reference their appendage to better express confidence, anger, desire, and many other emotions and life circumstances. I do it and my wife usually shakes her head and says something like, "that's all you think about." My rebuttal is, "I think about football too." Men are often depicted as crude oafs. "Guilty your honor." Sometimes it is fun being a crude oaf, especially if I can get a (pardon the pun) rise out of my wife. One woman said "a man is an appendage on a penis." She may be right. Whatever the case, all of this talk, jokes, and references about the wee wee is widespread. A Google search of the word "penis" returned 26,700,000 hits.

The male member has been referenced for thousands of years. Would you like some proof? How about Priapus, the Greek god of fertility. I remember making something similar out of clay in the third grade and boy, did I get in trouble. The Romans used Priapus as a scarecrow in their gardens. The medical condition priapism which is a sustained and painful erection derives its name from this well endowed god. Need more proof? Have you seen the movie Braveheart? If you did you may recall the battle scene where the Scottish army raised their kilts toward the English in a rousing display of disrespect. Any man standing at a urinal knows how to respond if the man at the next urinal makes the statement, "this water is cold." Out of reflex he says, "yeah, and it's deep too." It is a way to bond. I suppose it would be easier to walk up to a stranger and say, "I am a crude oaf, are you?" I might note here, that it is viewed appropriate to do the "water is cold and deep" bit with a stranger, but it is considered poor form to make direct comments about your neighbor's talleywhacker. For example, one should not say to his urinating neighbor something like, "say your penis is looking very nice this evening." For those still confused, the best advice I can give is the less said the better.

Sigmond Freud's theory involves the penis. Comedians joke about it. Males compare them from boyhood to adulthood. The methods of comparison change from actually whipping them out and measuring them as boys to buying big cars, boats, and TV's as men. Women just shake their heads, but before you ladies get too self-righteous what is the deal with breast augmentation. I guess size matters to women and men alike.

Since the male member has been celebrated throughout history, what harm can I be doing by making a comment about mine every now and then. Am I the only one who held a banana, cucumber, broomstick, or baseball bat as though it were my member? When I worked at Red Lobster, we had this big white high pressure hose we sprayed the floor with at night. One night I observed one of my coworkers straddle the hose and hold it as if it were his johnson. I looked at him and said, "yeah Smith, you wish yours was that big." To which he retorted, "I could make mine that big." I bit, "how?" "Fold it in half," he said. I laughed hard at that one. I still use the joke today.

Once at the hospital we were discussing weird tattoos. One nurse said she once had a patient who had the words "love gun" tattooed on his weenie. I told her I had once considered having a word tattooed on my appendage. "What were you going to have written on it?" she asked inquisitively. Without batting an eye I responded, "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Somehow she knew I was kidding. Then I thought she was laughing a little too hard. I did not say what font size I was going to use. Maybe 18 point, would you believe 9, how about 2? Oh well, it is not important.

Speaking of size I was once running with my training partner Neal in Folsom on one of our long runs. We began the long runs while it was still dark to avoid the summer heat. Not far into the course, Neal had to stop to pee. We were standing in near pitch black on a deserted country road. A slow realization sunk in, an odd sound like an electric fan. I moved toward the sound in an attempt to identify this phenomenon. It turned out to be a hollow tree full of bees. There must have been zillions of them. Fortunately, Neal finished taking his leak and we were on our way without the bees taking notice. Discussing the averted disaster, Neal said, "man, I am lucky I did not end up with a million bees on my bird." I quickly responded, "I don't think there is that much room on your bird, do you?" Neal adjusted his bee count to 5 or 6, but that would still have hurt like hell.

A female friend once told me she felt cheated because she did not have a weenie. Her reason was that the absence of a member prohibited her from some of the prime cursing combinations. She, for instance, when angry, could not tell someone to "suck her you know what." Substituting a body part she did have, just did not convey the same message. When trying to express certainty for instance, she could not say, "I would bet my left nut I am right. . ." I listened to her and agreed with her, but what can you do? She is not alone in her desire for additional equipment. My friend Claude, who is also a therapist, was telling me about a session he had with a father and his 16 year old daughter. The session began to get heated and the girl continuing to escalate blurted out to her father, "you can SUCK MY DICK!!!" She said it loudly. Claude and the stunned father looked at each other as if to say, "did she say what I think she said???" I do not know how Claude handled this situation, but I think it ended by cracking them all up.

If I haven't lost you yet, you may enjoy these little bits of humor. They are some of my favorite jokes about big Jim and the twins.

Joke # 1
Q: What is the difference between your paycheck and a male sex organ?
A: You don't have to beg your wife to blow your paycheck.

Joke # 2
A guy walks into my office and says, "can I use your dictaphone?" I said, "hell no, you've got to use your finger like everyone else.

Happy Friday gang
Big John


Thursday, November 13, 2003


Questions About New Orleans

My brother in Kansas City emailed me some questions for a coworker who plans to visit New Orleans in January. When I read it I had the thought I know all of you bloggers will understand, "It sounds like a blog to me." So in the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, I will answer my brother's coworker's questions while taking care of my daily blog responsibilities. I think Kim was right, I am addicted to blogging.

One reason I am doing this is to provide info for anyone else who may consider traveling to bayou country. There is a lot to see and do and you better come prepared to pass a good time. Here are the questions:

  1. Where is the nearest attractive beach from New Orleans?
    Here is an example of the Louisiana coast. There is some sand, but not much. Much of the coast line is marsh. The ducks love it. The next closest beaches are on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The farther to the East you go the better the beaches become. The Alabama beaches are prettier, have more surf and space. It gets better yet in Florida. About three and a half to four hours away from New Orleans you are in reach of Pensacola and Navarre Beach. I have had some fun at Navarre Beach. My friend Marty had a condo there until a Hurricane Opal blew it away. So the answer is this. Mississippi gives you a taste of the Gulf. There is sand and water, but it is pretty built up. I would suggest, Bay St. Louis or Biloxi. That is only an hour drive. Alabama is about three hours which almost puts you in Florida. So if your main vacation spot is New Orleans, I would hit one of the Mississippi beaches.

  2. What is the name of that town with antiques and where is it?
    The answer is Ponchatoula, LA - Antique City. this town is just south of Hammond on I-12. If this person is staying on the Northshore, it is a 30 minute drive. If she is staying in New Orleans, add one hour. There are lots of antique shops in Ponchatoula. Do not forget New Orleans, when it comes to antiques. They have the really old stuff.

  3. Are there any flea markets?
    Go to this link and scroll down to the Farmer's Market. The Farmer's Market and Flea Market are connected. One usually enjoys some French chicory coffee and beignets at the Cafe Du Mondeon their way to the flea market.

  4. Which plantations have I been to and/or would recommend?
    The only plantation I have visited / toured is Nottaway Plantation House. This plantation is on the Mississippi River and features a pretty nice restaurant on the grounds. There are still bullet holes in the front columns some disrespecting yankees put there. Other plantations of interest are Oak Alley Plantation and The Myrtles Plantation. You may recognize Oak Alley from the movie Interview with the Vampire. The Myrtles of course is haunted as you can get more info from the website.

  5. What day trips within 60-100 miles of New Orleans would I recommend?
    I would recommend a swamp tour. One good one is Honey Island Swamp Tours. These are great, you get right out in nature. January should be decent weather, but the alligators and snakes will be sleeping. Another way to get a taste of the swamp scenery is the Barataria Preserve in the Jean Lafitte National Park. I would recommend the plantations or swamp tours for the day trips in January. I would also recommend staying around New Orleans and taking in museums and other attractions. Perhaps take in a concert at the House of Blues.

I hope these links are helpful. There is a lot to do and see here. The last place I will recommend is New Orleans Daiquiris. I doubt this link needs further explanation.

I may have to go into New Orleans this weekend and do some of this stuff myself.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, November 12, 2003


It's Funny, It's Sad, It just Is

Treating the mentally ill can be funny, it can be sad, but it is a way of life for many. I do not live the life, I observe it and do what I can to help.

Psychiatric care has gone through changes in the 17 years I have been involved in it. The dark ages of psychiatry were not that long ago. Mental illness has been blamed on demons, the patient's themselves, punishment by God, and poor parenting. We used to lock "them" away, they were not understood or treated humanely. Today, the chronic mentally ill live a life in a revolving door. They come into a hospital where they are stabilized. The structure of the hospital and supervision helps them achieve what we call their "baseline." After discharge, they frequently stop taking their medication or return to drugs. They decompensate and wind up in the hospital again. How do they get back in? All sorts of reasons, but they usually involve being hospitalized against their will. Upon discharge, the options of a mental patient are limited. Some are lucky enough to live with their family. Even bad families do a better job than most institutions. A number of our patients live with aging parents who themselves are nearing their limits of help.

The next best thing to family is a group home - IF the patient is willing to go. Group homes fall along a wide continuum from close supervision and attentive staff on one end to "flop house" settings more about getting the patient's social security check than to provide treatment. As a social worker, I try to get the individual in the best place they can afford and can handle. Very few patients are capable of living independently.

Some patients do not like group homes. They are incapable of living with others. These folks often live at hotels frequented by drug addicts, prostitutes, and other unsavory characters. Mental patients are often victimized at these places. Mental patients are frequently victimized period. Many times the patient's own family is more concerned about that monthly check and only tolerate the person for the money.

Working in the hospital is interesting to say the least. I see things there I would never see anywhere else and I get paid for it. That reminds me. I was walking down the hall the other day and an attendant was standing outside the men's room waiting for a patient to come out. The attendant looked nothing like someone who loved their job. I said to him, "did you ever think someone would be paying you just to wait on someone who is taking a pee?" A look of realization flashed across his face, "no, I never thought of it like that. That's cool." My work was finished there.

The things we see in the hospital would flabbergast most people. It did me when I first started, but after a while you get used to it. One day on the unit, I was shooting the breeze with a couple of friends. The patients on the unit at the time were far from stable, but we did not let that interfere with our discussion. One of the geriatric patients was screaming. She did this no matter what was going on. She was receiving good care, being kept clean, fed, and given drink. No matter she just kept screaming. In the hospital we have a name for someone who screams all the time. We call them "screamers." There were other bizarre things going on all around us. I remember pointing out to my friends, "can you believe we are having a serious discussion about the stock market with all of this going on around us?" We all laughed at the unrealness of our reality.

One of my favorite things in the hospital is staffing. Staffing is when the psychiatrist, nurse, social workers, and other team members discuss each case. After discussing a patient he/she comes into the room and we review their case and discuss what needs done or talk about discharge plans. This is one of my favorite places for straight lines. The other day we were discussing one patient's history. She was well known to us. The doctor had seen this particular person at another hospital and he said that she was once admitted wearing nothing but newspaper. That's right, she was adorned in the morning news for clothes. My response, "yes, Debbie always said she wanted to be in print."

It is not all funny though. Some of the situations are just plain sad. The other day we admitted a lady who had been on the streets for a few weeks. She had been described as someone who once gave much attention to her appearance. The lady dressed neatly and took good care of herself. Since decompensating and being on the streets, she was completely disheveled. The staff at the referring agency told me the lady asked if she could go to the bathroom. The staff member told her yes of course. The patient then walked outside, peed in the bushes and wiped herself with her skirt. That is gross and disgusting, but that is reality for a lot of people. But for the grace of God go I and you. Be thankful for a mind that is not broken.

It is funny, it is sad, it just is.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Tuesday, November 11, 2003



Today my life interfered with my blogging. To start things off, it was busy at work and I stayed busy all day. At one point I had three phone calls going - each one an admission. That makes things dicey. One admission generates a flurry of activity. Three generates an avalanche and there are no St. Bernards in Louisiana - at least the four-legged, flask toting kind. There is a St. Bernard Parish and a St. Bernard Blvd. I dug myself out of the snow drift created by the admissions, then I did a social history with a 27 year old woman who was pretty teary and upset. By the end of the interview though, I had her laughing. I had another session after that. Before I knew what hit me, it was quitting time and I had not even read some of my favorite blogs or checked mine.

Once home, I fired up the G4 and began reading and tweaking the template of the blog I made yesterday for my pal Marty. Just as I started to write my post for Tuesday, the power went out. Not all of the power just where I was working. I checked the breaker boxes and everything seemed fine. It took a while for basic electrical troubleshooting to seep into my skull, but it did. The culprit was my surge protector. it was getting hot and shutting off. Of course, I did not learn this until my computer shut off another time or two. It was only 2 years old and cost about $50.00. I am going to dig for the receipt and warranty. Normally this would be like finding the Holy Grail, The Fountain of Youth, or Madonna's lost virginity, but I bought it when I got it at the time I bought my computer so all of that paperwork is together - somewhere.

My next quest was to locate two power strips. Yes two. The scanner, speakers, DSL modem, and USB hub have big transformer electrical supplies. Then there is the computer, monitor, printer, and a desk lamp. I have an external USB hard drive I am not plugging in. I found one stuck up on a shelf in a closet, then I took the other off of another computer I had laying around.

Now I am up and running. Monday Night Football is over and the local news is droning on in the background. Hobo is sprawled on the floor by my chair. Wow, tomorrow is supposed to be in the 80's.

In the goal / insanity department, I am toying with my running partner's suggestion to enter the Napa Marathon in California March 2004. Committing to run a marathon is a big step. If I do it it would be my 5th marathon. I last ran the Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans 1998.

The gremlins had me going there for a while, but the lights are back on and I am blogging away. Hopefully tomorrow, my life will not interfere with my blogging.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, November 10, 2003


More Politics

I mentioned before in a post or two that my friend Marty is running for a Parish (county) council seat. Marty has served on the city council for 8 years and did a good job. He works at the hospital where I work so politics is not his only source of income. The runoff is this Saturday and he is up against an incumbent who has been there 24 years. This guy is a charicature of himself - an original "Boss Hog." If it were not for the fact Marty's opponent is a real person and has had civic power, it would be funny. Unfortunately, the voters have kept him in office and he has built himself quite a little empire. He may be out though. In the first election he only got 38% of the vote and the two guys who lost are giving their support to Marty.

Floyd, the opponent, is pulling out all stops and the negative campaign mail has begun. Marty does not have the organization of funds to address these false claims before the election. I will not go into details here, but suffice it to say this man is lying and attempting to mislead the voters. He embodies what is wrong with politics. On the other hand, Marty is the kind of person we need. He makes decisions based on what is best for the people and community. He has a job so is not in the pockets of developers or whomever.

We were sitting around complaining about Floyd's lying mailers and discussing how to respond. One parenthetical note here. I think most people see through this stuff, but you never know. Anyway, we discussed, taking flyers door to door with his correction of the negative mail on them, but that would take too much time. To make a long story short I thought of the internet. Why not make a blog?

So that is what I did today. I made a blog for Marty's campaign. Now, Marty is going to record a message and do one of those automated phone things to reach every household in the district. The message will mention the website. In addition, we are printing up cards with the URL and passing them out. The power of the internet.

Hopefully, after Marty wins, the site can be converted into an information site for the voters. He can post what he is working on. People can comment and send email. What a great way to communicate.

Keep your fingers crossed for Saturday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, November 09, 2003


The Email Hall of Fame

Counseling CartoonNo I am not showing off any new counseling techniques. This is just one of the gems you will find in my Email Hall of Fame.We are barraged with email forwards from well meaning friends daily. For one reason or another I saved some of them. At the same time, I am looking for ways to apply and learn HTML and the idea for the Email Hall of Fame was born. It took me from after my run yesterday until about 1:30 AM to complete it.

Here is how I did it:

Looking at this it does not look like much, but it took me a long time. That is how we learn. If there was a better way to do this, drop me a comment, it will come in handy the next time.

As for the content. I want folks to be forewarned that some of the items and photos are tasteless, risqué, and down right nasty, offensive to some, selling points to others. It is all intended in the spirit of good natured humor. I believe we can laugh at anything beginning with ourselves. It puzzles me how someone can laugh at a racial joke or religious joke, but if a fat joke is told, they get serious and say, "hey, that's not funny." With my poor eyesight I better laugh at myself or I would be a bitter SOB. Just the other day, I was on Brenda's site, and I made a comment about a picture of some apples she had on the left column of the page. Trouble was, they were cranberries. I thought it was funny, but that is the kind of mistake I make because my eyes give me BS information a lot of the time. I would chuckle if someone else did it, so I laugh when I do it.

The advent of all of this politically correct nonsense is a sign folks need to relax just a bit. Lighten up. If you go with begin PC all the time you will be an angry, bitter, self-righteous person. Life is funny - can you say "irony" kids. I laugh to keep from crying.

If I had to choose one thing in my life / personality / whatever I think is most valuable to me, I think a sense of humor and laughter would be it. When people laugh together they are connecting and interacting intimately. The kind of intimacy guys are comfortable with. Now I know humor can be used for evil too. That is why we have words like ridicule and condescension. I am referring to the good humor.

I hope your day is filled with laughter and joy.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, November 08, 2003


Back In The Groove

I will post twice today. I am going for a 10 mile run this AM. Back on September 20 I posted about how I had let myself go a bit physically. Since then I have lost 11 lbs. and I have been running 6 days per week. Weelky milage is about 30. I am eating healthier food and less of it. Cutting back on the alcohol has also helped. The trick is not depriving the self, but not over indulging either.

Feels a lot better to be back in the groove. My pants sure fit better and the consistent exercise pays off in overall feelings of strength and energy. Let me encourage you. If there is something you have been putting off - start it today. No excuses. Before you know it a month or two will have passed and you will be at or near the goal. You can do it.

Who sleeps in on Saturday AM anyway?

More later today.


Friday, November 07, 2003


From John's Desk

John's Desk It is Friday and time to lighten up and slide into the weekend. Yeeeeeehaaaaaa!!!! As you can see, my desk is far from neat. The sad part is at this moment, my desk is much worse. I have a week's worth of papers to go through, throw away, file, and Lord knows what. Working at a hospital with the HIPPA laws, one has to be careful about throwing things away. Any item with a patient's name or info must be shredded. We have big wooden receptacles for "to be shredded" items. The other day I walked back on the unit and one of the nurses had the box open and paper all over the floor. She accidentally threw something important away. Problem is, the box is locked, so the "key master" must be located to open the shred box. It is almost as bad as putting a letter in the mailbox then deciding you don't want it mailed. Too bad.

Barbara works at the same building I do, but with a different program. Tonight she was telling me about one of her supervisees who was describing a patient's smoking habits. Employee X said, "he is a train smoker." She kept saying it and Barbara had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing. When she told me I imagined a person with steam coming from the top of their head like a locomotive. Come to think of it "train smoker" may be accurate if the person has a "one track" mind.

One of Barbara's clients when she worked at a battered women's shelter was talking about her husband who had beaten her more than once. On one occasion the man had been jailed. The lady described the events to Barbara. "After he was in jail for a couple of days, he did a "flea bargain" and got out." I guess when the cops collared the guy it was a "flea collar."

Another colorful character once was committed to our facility in a manic state. Manic is an extremely elevated mood. She was wearing a red dress suitable for any club in the hood. To top off her outfit she was wearing a wig which still had the tag on it. I do not know why she did not cut off the tag. Myself and two other staff had gone to the lobby to meet her and walk her back to the unit. The walk took some time because the patient kept stopping to tell us about the injustices done to her by the police, her boyfriend, her family, and a hundred other people. Her speech was staccato and machine gun like in that it never stopped. Every other word was "mother f***er." She used body language to emphasize various points in her diatribe. Her head went from side to side and it was in synch with her waving index finger. Looking at her was like staring into a box fan, spinning out of sight. This girl made the Tasmanian Devil look slow. As she continued to spin and gyrate her wig flew off in mid gyration. One of the staff later said she thought it was the girl's head flying off. The wigless cyclone did not miss a beat, but continued to detail her catalog of injustices. A few days later in group, after she had calmed considerably, this girl was talking about one of the family squabbles she had been in. "My sister was threatening me with a "bashetti." (instead of machete) When people say something funny, it seems they just keep saying it. It is hard not to bust out laughing sometimes.

The last one I will tell is another of Barbara's kids when she worked in the school system. Barbara was dealing with a 9 year old boy who had problems with his anger. She told him to write a letter about his anger and bad feelings. Once the letter was written they would tear it up and dispose of it, symbolically disposing of the feelings. As he wrote, he looked up and asked, "can I write anything I want?" Barbara told him, "yes." He asked another question, "can I write cuss words too?" Barbara said, "you can write anything you want, they are your feelings, I won't read it." Billy completed his note and brought it to Barbara. "I want you to read it," he said. "OK," Barbara responded. She unfolded the note and read it. It said: "Fuck every one except Mrs. Strain."

Out of the mouths of babes. . .

Until the next time and have a good weekend
John Strain


Thursday, November 06, 2003



Mountain ClimberStruggle is necessary. Without it many of life's lessons are delayed or never learned. In our community children know little about struggle. Parents, motivated by love, try to make the path smooth and as free of obstacles as possible. They see to it their children's experiences are positive and successful. They use their knowledge, money, and influence to help. This easy path does not develop gratitude and appreciation. Instead, many children in the community are spoiled rich kids who cannot tolerate the word "no". They have little or no patience and see work as a punishment.

I have heard that helping a baby bird out of an egg or helping a butterfly out of a cocoon results in their death. Apparently, the struggle to free themselves is necessary for their normal development. It is hard to watch something struggle and not want to help. A parent must allow their child to struggle enough to learn important lessons. Too much help may spoil a child, while not enough help may cause bitterness over arbitrary rules that do not make sense.

My mother tells a story about me when I was still eating in a high chair. There was a family gathering and I was following my mother around bugging her to let me do something. She finally told me to take my high chair out to the backyard where we were to eat soon. I began struggling with the chair and one of my aunts said to my mother, "aren't you going to help him?" In response, mom said, "I am helping him by letting him do it himself."

Historically, my generation has had it made. I am at the tail end of the baby boomers, born in 1957. We have everything. Goods are affordable. Travel is affordable. Anything is possible. We have more problems too. Drugs, crime, divorce, mental illness, burnout, obesity, and numerous problems born of excess. In contrast, The Greatest Generation knew struggle intimately. They grew up during the Great Depression and fought World War II. The struggles they overcame left them with an ability to endure life in any circumstance while staying positive and productive.

Struggle is important and even necessary for a well balanced life. The problem is, our society is so fortunate struggle is minimal. The solution - create your own struggles. Exercise is a self imposed struggle. Our muscles respond to the challenge or struggle we place on them. Education is a struggle. It is work to learn, but the rewards of the struggle are worth it. I crave struggle at times. I have run four marathons. Training for a marathon and completing the 26.2 miles is a struggle one does for an unparalleled feeling of accomplishment. How do you make yourself struggle?

One day a man entered a shoe store and asked for a pair of shoes in a size 9. The shoe salesman there prided himself on being able to guess a person's shoe size just by looking at the foot and he knew this customer needed a size 11 not a size 9. "Sir, you mean an 11 don't you?" said the salesman. "Nope, I need a size 9," replied the customer. "I am quite certain you are mistaken sir," said the salesman, "you need at least a size 11." The customer a bit miffed said, "look, if you don't want to get me a size 9 I will go somewhere else." The salesman apologized then brought the customer the size 9's he had asked for. At the checkout stand the salesman felt compelled to continue the discussion. "Sir, I know you wear an 11, but why do you insist on wearing a size 9?" "Well, I tell you," said the customer, "my life is tough. The boss is on my back all day long. I work all the time, but still have financial problems. When I go home my wife starts into nagging about one thing and the other. My kids are always making racket. The only relief I get is when I kick off my shoes at the end of the day."

When I look over my life there are things I have had to struggle with and overcome. Physically, my poor vision has been a struggle. Yet, I believe my creativity and problem solving abilities are better developed because of it. I have had to find alternatives to get what I want. Were my vision normal, I would not have benefited from those struggles. I have had other struggles, so have you. Think about what you have learned in the classroom of struggle. There is no one more understanding than someone who has walked the same road. We are fellow strugglers all. Our own struggles increase our understanding and compassion for others and it is natural to want to reach out to them.

So don't just sit there - challenge yourself. Introduce a little struggle in your life. A meal tastes better when one is hungry, drink more quenching when one is thirsty, and accomplishment in any form more rewarding after struggle.

Until the next time
John Strain