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Sunday, August 31, 2003



We bought our first house in 1991. John was 6 and we were moving from New Orleans to the North Shore. One of the benefits of home ownership to me was being able to have a dog. I am a dog person. I had a few good dogs growing up. There was Okie a beagle cocker mix my mother brought home from selling Avon one day. Cindy was a toy collie and was killed chasing a squirrel into the path of an oncoming car. Jake was a terrier poodle mix and really smart. He loved to play.

We first tried to get a dog at the humane society. I wanted to save one of the pooches from death row. Barb, John, and I looked over their puppies and settled on a little blonde cocker spaniel. We even named him - Joe, Joe the cocker spaniel. John was really excited but we could not take Joe home with us. He had to stay to be fixed. It was supposed to take a week. Several days later I get a phone call from the Humane Society. Joe had died along with the other three puppies in his cage. There had been a parvo outbreak.

I couldn't believe it. What a drag, now I had to tell John his new puppy he was so excited about had died. That evening he came with Barbara to pick me up at work. I took him in my office and told him I had some sad news then explained about Joe. He cried and cried. I felt so bad for him, but one of the things a parent cannot fix is a broken heart.

Hobo on bedNot long after that we saw a sign at a vet's office - "Free black puppy to good home." We pulled in and met the little black puppy already named Hobo. He was named Hobo because someone abandoned him at the vet's office. He had been neglected and required some care to get him back on his paws. I remember trying to pet Hobo. He was part alligator so hyper, but very cute. A lab mix, black with four white paws and a little white patch on his chest. We decided to adopt Hobes as we often call him. I had to go home and prepare the house for a puppy. The next day we brought him to his new home.

We have loved Hobo for twelve years now. He is getting old and getting up and down is hard for him. I hate to think about him not being around. As I write this I need only look out the corner of my right eye to see him laying by my chair. So many good memories. Hobo's first day at our house was traumatic for John. He was afraid of the snapping gator dog at first and sought refuge on a chair. He and Hobo soon became pals and Hobo slept with John for years until he could no longer jump up on the bed, so he sleeps on his dog pillow in our room.

For the last twelve years Hobo has been with me continuously. He is the only one that saw the board slide from the rafters of our shed and hit me on the bridge of my nose. He is the only one that heard the expletive laden tirade that followed. Hobo has walked with me in the early morning and we have witnessed many sunrises together. He knows the beauty of the sun rays shining through the trees and the morning haze. I know that when we walk by the blue house I have to tighten up on the leash, because if he sees the gray cat he will lunge for it - always missing, yet always trying. He has witnessed our son's metamorphosis from child to man. He is part of our family.

A few years back I wrote a poem about Hobo - here it is:

My DogHobo today

My dog was free, but if you offered me
I wouldn't take the world for him
Because no matter who or what I am
He will always be my friend

Sure there were times, when he was a pup
I had a doubt or two
For when we lost track of his whereabouts
He was probably eating a shoe

And it seems when the rain is its hardest
And the night is dark and cold
He stands at the door with that look that says
My bladder I can no longer hold

But the comfort I get from just seeing
His black furry form on the floor
And coming home finding him waiting
And wagging his tail by the door

And the pleasure I get from just watching
Him running and jumping at play
Grows my love and my laughter
More and more every day

So my dog was free but he has given me
What I leave to seek all day
Love and joy and loyalty
Beyond what I could pay

Here's to man's best friend - I think I will pet him right now.
Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, August 30, 2003



If you missed seeing Mars the other evening check out this Hubble Site the pictures are amazing.


What's On My Mind Today

PROGRESS: The North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain used to be rural. It was a getaway for the residents of New Orleans and a paradise of trees such as live oak, pecan, Cyprus, and tall pines. Fishing camps were nestled throughout the miles of river and lake shorelines. Slowly the cities of Madisonville, Mandeville, and Covington grew. In the 1990's the population rapidly increased. With the increased population came commercial development and housing starts. The North Shore became even more attractive to residents of New Orleans and they came by the droves escaping the congestion and crime of city life to a rural / suburban serenity. The trees were sacrificed for large homes and whole blocks of land were clear cut to make way for unimaginative subdivisions. Two years ago the Sunday newspaper had two aerial photos. One was taken in the 1970's. There were so many trees the photo was nearly all green. In contrast the recent photo had large holes in the green and much of the rest was extremely thinned. It was disheartening to see how many trees had been cut down.

I live near several vacant lots and pass by quite a bit of undeveloped land on my way to work. That will soon change. One large area down the street from me had huge vehicles on it yesterday to clear the trees. A huge mechanical arm grabs the tree and jerks it out of the ground. It is placed on a truck and hauled away. Right next to the hospital where I work a 300 home development is underway. It is going in an area that is now thick woods. It is sad to see progress at this cost.

I am reminded of Joni Mitchell's song "you pave paradise and put up a parking lot." I am not pointing any fingers. If I did I would have to point at myself. I shop at the Super Wal-Mart and the Home Depot. I eat at the restaurants and use the roads. They make life easier, but they come at a high price.

We cannot have good roads, good shopping, convenience, electricity, cell phones, fast access computers, and television and live in a pristine forest. Progress is not free - it comes at the cost of natural beauty.

WASTED ENERGY: Have you ever considered how much work and effort people put into negativity? We are surrounded by it.

Example 1: Montgomery, Alabama is the epicenter for lost causes. That monument was a lightning rod for a challenge. Christianity can still be practiced in the United States. How does the removal of one chunk of rock in Alabama jeopardize Christendom? I believe most of the protesters are sincere and probably good folks. But why are they mobilizing over a "symbol" of their religion while they neglect its "substance"? Regardless of your faith or even if you are an atheist consider this. The people protesting to keep the Ten Commandments Monument in the judicial building believe in an omnipotent God, yet they are acting as though their faith were in jeopardy because of one "symbol". Their faith is supposed to be evidenced through their actions of love not their protests against the government. The government cannot wipe out anyone's faith. Did communism destroy faith when it was illegal? Relax folks, God can take care of things and He would probably rather you show love to your neighbor quietly and without fanfare than to jockey for position on the evening news. He has things under control. True religion is evidenced by the life one lives not the protests they attend. Choose substance over form.

Example 2: Democrats and Republicans expend a great deal of energy fighting each other. Both parties are wrong, both parties engage in dirty tricks, both parties would rather tear down an opponent than they would offer a solution to a problem. The Palestinians and Israelis stand a better chance of patching things up.

What I see on the news is useless. One party chides the other party. They lie through statistics and rewrite history for their current benefit. The gutless anchors either do not challenge obvious untruths or they are misinformed themselves. They believe that the "end" justifies the "means" but it does not.

The answers to complicated questions are not obvious or easy. How do you solve economic problems, world affairs, education, crime? There is not one thing that can be done. Whoever is in office works like hell to make a difference. The minority party prays for failure so they can seize power. Who's fault is it? Blame someone? But blame does not solve problems.

Think of the money spent, the articles written, the meetings, phone calls, faxes, emails that are aimed at tearing down fellow Americans. Is someone really terrible because they are a Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, gay, feminist, environmentalist, Christian, Muslim, Northerner, Southerner, red neck, African American, pro life, pro choice? I would hate to be judged by a series of "yes" or "no" questions, but that is what we do to others.

In counseling with couples who are in conflict I try to teach this rule right off: Seek first to understand then to be understood. Take your time, do not react to the labels. Discuss issues, try to understand what the person with a differing view believes and why. Explain your view point. Open your mind. Then believe what you want. I believe the phrase "A house divided cannot stand" applies here. I will try to do my part - how about you?

The Human Spirit: As the second anniversary of 9/11 approaches I am reminded of how I felt and how our countrymen responded to such a violent action. I love the way our citizens responded. We came together. All barriers vanished for a time. Too bad it takes a 9/11 to bring out our best.

Have a great Labor Day weekend
Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 29, 2003


Miss Covington

I may get in trouble with my wife Barbara for telling this story. It is an account of one of those fights over something stupid that gets out of hand. I hope the statute of limitations protects me from further wrath and or retribution. It was more than ten years ago. My hope is that this story may help some other husband or boyfriend avoid this relationship land mine, even if it is too late for me.

It was one of those Norman Rockwell evenings. I was watching TV, Barbara was reading the newspaper, Hobo was stretched out on the floor, and John was playing quietly in the other room. Barbara began to read a newspaper ad to me, "Young ladies between the ages of 17 and 24 . . . enter the Miss Covington Pageant . . . blah, blah, blah." She chuckled and added, "Maybe I should enter." I laughed too, "You could never be Miss Covington," I said joining in with her chuckling. "Why not?" she said not chuckling any more. It is funny how two words can say much more than their small number would suggest. All of a sudden I was on the witness stand and Perry Mason was cross examining me. I was no match and each word I spoke from the point of "why not?" on only dug my hole deeper. "Because,"I said, you are older than 24." I took her silence at that point as an opportunity to further explain the logic of why she could not be Miss Covington. "Also, you are married - it did not say Mrs. Covington.

I knew then I was in trouble. Sensing she was mad I felt it important to tell her how she should not be angry over such a stupid thing as this. "I am just watching TV here . . . you were laughing . . .I am not saying you are not pretty. . . this whole thing is stupid. . . deeper, deeper, deeper goes the hole.

The damage was done and I was mad she was mad. Silence and tension filled air changed our Norman Rockwell scene to something more resembling Roseanne or The Osbornes.

I do not recall the details of going to bed, but it seems like the next day things were on the mend. I apologized to her. I still thought the whole thing was dumb. Of course, using logic I had analyzed the situation. My flip comment about the beauty contest was an insult to her. I on the other hand was half listening to her since I was watching TV and my comment was more unfiltered than it should have been. I felt she over reacted, but if I was out of trouble, leave well enough alone I reasoned.

Guys like to insult each other. An insult is really a compliment. Here is an example. I have three good friends. One evening we all converged at our office. We are all in the psychology field. Some remodeling was going on. Claude was painting the floor and Marty, Brian, and I were moving things around. Marty must have mentioned 3 or 4 times that he would like a scrap of sheet rock to patch a hole he had at his house. "Claude, don't throw that sheet rock away, I can use that at my house." After Marty mentiioned it the third or fourth time I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my bill fold and said, "Here's five-dollars, go buy yourself some f*2%ing sheet rock and shut the f&%K up about it." It was a classic male bonding moment. We all laughed and replayed the lines over and over again like actors rehearsing for a play. We still laugh about it today. BUT - that stuff does not work with most women and I made the mistake of using it on Barbara.

We both worked at the same hospital then. That day I was eating lunch in the cafeteria and the topic of "stupid fights in marriages" came up. So I shared our recent squabble with my colleagues. I told the story objectively and accepted responsibility for what I did wrong. I thought the whole thing was funny. It was classic man vs. woman stuff. After all, the argument was behind us. I had apologized. Everything was OK. The audience laughed and seemed to agree with me on the funny part. The women all sided with Barbara and offered what they would have done. "I would have killed you for saying that. . ." was the general female response.

I had not counted on the actions of Robert one of the nurses. Apparently, Barbara was walking down the hall sometime after lunch and Robert was coming up behind her. He yelled out loudly, "Hey Miss Covington!" It is funny how three little words I did not even utter caused me so much trouble. She shrugged off his attempt at humor, but became livid and furious with me. Meanwhile I am sitting in my office working - completely unaware I was in deep doo doo again. Suddenly my door flew open Barbara standing in the doorway. She said with an unmistakable you're in trouble tone of voice, "I just want you to know I am VERY ANGRY WITH YOU." The door closed quickly and the whole event was like some angry coo coo clock. I sat there trying to figure out what had just happened.

Later I was walking to the unit and I passed Robert in the hall. "I called Barbara Miss Covington," he said proudly. "She really thought it was funny." Playing along I answered him, "yeah, it's a riot." Damn, I thought, here we go again. I popped in at her office, but the conversation did not go well. It was late afternoon and we would soon be going home. Remember I cannot drive because of my lousy eyes. On one of my passes through the lobby around 5:30 PM I noticed a car resembling ours driving out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed. Surely she wouldn't leave me at work I reasoned.

I checked her office and it was dark and there was an empty parking space where I remembered getting out of the car earlier that day. She did leave me. What was my next play? Call her up and ask / beg her to pick me up. My testicles ruled that out fast. Wait around, maybe she would feel guilty and reconsider. Maybe she just had to run an errand first - like stock up on ammo. Screw waiting, I decided to walk home. She would feel guilty when I came in the door all sweaty. If she were to call and find out I was not there she might get worried and come looking for me. She would apologize and ask me to forgive her for her over reaction. It could happen.

I set out walking the 2.5 miles. Not a great distance for a runner, but in street shoes farther than I want to walk. I was not going to give her the satisfaction of calling her. I walked and played scenarios in my head about my arrival at home. What should I say, what would she say. About half way home a car pulled off the road ahead of me - I was getting picked up. It was Marty a guy I barely knew then but now is my best friend. Situations like these cause a strong bond in males. "What are you walking for?" Marty inquired. "Oh, it was such a nice evening I thought I would get some exercise," I said. We made small talk the rest of the way home and I got out at my driveway.

Once inside, I acted as though nothing happened. She was fixing supper and I went about my business. There was no knock down drag out fight or even yelling. Mainly silence. Then at some point that evening we made eye contact and started laughing. The whole thing was pretty stupid. She explained (kind characterization) why she was angry about me telling the story at lunch. It embarrassed her among other things. The problem boiled down to both of us having different preferences about disclosing personal information. And she was right and I was wrong.

I am sure the women readers have noticed all of my mistakes in this situation, but for those men who may still be hanging on, here is some advice:

I hope this helps someone.
Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 28, 2003


Odds and Ends

The best thinking today about mental illness and behavior places a lot of stock on the frontal lobes of the brain. Researches have discovered that structural changes take place in the brain as a result of abuse and other traumas. Let me say that again. I am not talking about just chemical differences I am talking about the structure. It changes your brain and it changes it for the worse.

Reason, logic, judgment, personality and socialization are higher order functions determined by the frontal lobes. In schizophrenia this area is different and the firing patterns of nerve cells are different than non-schizophrenic brains.

This was evident today as I went through my routine. I have four patients and they all hate me right now. One hates me because I won't let him get on a bus and go to Los Angeles so he can become a movie star. Another hates me because he thinks I won't let him go to college. One more hates me because I will not call Crystal Gayle to come pick him up and take him to Tennessee. The last one hates me because the other ones do and she does not want to feel left out.

There is no logic, there is no reason, there is no acknowledgment of practicality or contingency planning. Contingency planning would have one consider questions like, "What will I do if I get to Los Angeles and I do not become a movie star and have no money or a place to live?"

It gets very frustrating because I rarely get to complete a sentence much less a thought. I had to end a family session early today because of the language this individual was using with his mother. The families really take the heat. They are accused of spending the social security check on themselves when they do not, poisoning the patient for encouraging medication compliance, and not helping. Imagine working your ass off, foregoing your wants and needs and being told you are a selfish bastard. The patient often orders their family around to feed their insatiable appetite and with never an expression of gratitude. They fight those who would help them.

When these people are sick they want what they want yesterday. They lack patience, and though they act grandiose, are in fact helpless.

I do not go through a day without thanking God for a son not afflicted with schizophrenia. It destroys more than the life of the individual. It also plays havoc in the family and costs society billions of dollars annually.

My job is about 2.5 miles from my front door. We go about 2 blocks then turn onto Tyler Street and that takes us all the way to the hospital. On Tyler Street are many doctor's offices. There are two dermatology clinics, several general practitioners, a hand clinic, oncology clinic, heart center, med-surg hospital, funeral home, two veterinarians, a nursing home, pediatric clinic, a dentist, and several other medical offices.

Here is my thought: If you can drive up or down this street and not have to stop in one of these places - you are doing just fine.

I brought some flowers to a friend today. She was returning to work after a whirlwind trip back east to take her son to college. She cried all the way back and obviously misses him severely. Her reaction was worth 100 times the cost of the flowers. Try it yourself sometime. You won't regret it. Who ever said "It is more blessed to give than to receive" knew what they were talking about.

LJSpeaking of college, John's first day was Monday. He could not find his first class - bad omen. He went to the room on his schedule. He said it was a closet or something. A sign was posted directing him to another empty room. He never found it. Welcome to college bud. Next stop life.

I am not running out of things to do. I have two video projects to work on for friends celebrating special events. Video work is time consuming and cuts into my writing. I usually get home from work and sit down at the computer until about 11:00 PM then go to bed. I am not complaining - I love it.

Speaking of videos. I have talked to John and our adopted son Ben, who now lives with us, about the bathroom the three of us share. Barb uses a different one. They are basically slobs. I have let things slide because I figured John was going to be away at school so why make a federal case out of it. Since he is commuting to school though and will be around, I decided to address the problem. I have a few pet peeves. One is DON'T USE MY FREAKING TOWEL. I hate to go in to take a shower and my towel is wet - yuck! Number two is pick up your clothes. There is always about two or three pairs of boxers on the floor and maybe a pair of shoes or an old t-shirt. The next things I ask is straighten the towels, neatly. Spread the shower curtain so it can dry, and for crying out loud, just once change the toilet paper roll. Don't let me forget to mention - rinse out the sink instead of leaving toothpaste all over it to harden into a modern art sculpture. I have tried talking to them and they say they understand, but I have noticed no appreciable change. So I will employ some creativity instead of the traditional gripe, bitch, piss, and moan routine. I know, I know, its my house blah, blah, blah, but in the overall scheme of things, I am not going to make this a cause worth dying for. I will leave that to their future wives. Poor girls. What I am going to do is this: I will videotape the bathroom when it is a wreck. Then provide commentary on the tape to point out the problems, etc. Next, I will video the proper way to do it and show the finished product. Kids just need to see it on TV is my theory. I will blog on the results when they roll in.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 27, 2003


Ben Raymond

Over the years we brush up against scores of people. Some are easily forgotten and others we take with us throughout our life's journey. Ben Raymond is one person who has stayed in my mind and been with me on my life's journey.

Some people are beautiful and stand out in a crowd. Most are average. A few are noticed because they are peculiar. I was like that and so was Mr. Raymond. I wore thick glasses due to poor eyesight. The pop bottle lenses were easy targets for children to try out their creative insults. This was good training for me. I would sometimes fire back insults of my own or laugh. Sometimes the teasing resulted in me feeling sorry for myself. I would bemoan the fact I was not normal like the other kids, but it would pass and I would go on.

Mr. Raymond walked with a limp and one arm hung motionless. I am not sure what happened to him maybe polio or something. He was one of the leaders in my Boy Scout troop and he was like me in that he stood out for peculiar reasons. Like me the boys made fun of him and at times I did too. His nickname was “oney.” He had one good arm and one good leg. We deduced he probably had one good nut as well. It was not the kind of thing said to Mr. Raymond’s face the insults were always said behind his back. He had to know, but he never lashed out at us. He must have realized we were young and dumb. He probably further reasoned that we would eventually grow out of it.

Regardless of the disrespect, Mr. Raymond was nice. He was tall, quiet, and gentle. He smoked a pipe and I watched with fascination as he cleaned the pipe and loaded it with tobacco all very skillfully and with one hand. Mr. Raymond could not play baseball or football with us like some of the other leaders. On camp outs there were certain tasks he could not do, but he was always there encouraging or joking with us.

More than one time I felt ashamed for participating in the name calling. I knew what it felt like first hand and I did not like it. I was guilty of the very thing by which I had been victimized. It is a useful thing to be aware of one’s own hypocrisy and even more useful to want to change it.

Eventually I earned five merit badges and was eligible for the rank of Star. After a board of review and some additional formalities I was ready to receive the award at the next awards ceremony or court of honor. Scouts who receive the rank of Star, Life, and Eagle are given the privilege to choose someone to present the award. Nobody ever chose Mr. Raymond for this task - I was the first. Some of the other kids laughed at my choice. “You chose oney, ha, ha, you probably only have one nut yourself, ha, ha.” I did not care what they said. I had watched Mr. Raymond rise above insults and I was doing the same.

When I asked Mr. Raymond to present the award I knew he was touched. He congratulated me and told me how honored he was that I would think of him for this task. He made me feel better about myself. 

I do not know how much I understood then as a 13 year old boy. I did realize that Mr. Raymond and I were a lot alike. Asking him to present my medal was one way I could acknowledge him, it was also a display of genuine respect.

It is both a mystery and a truth that good character is often forged in the furnace of ridicule and disrespect. A diamond is the result of enormous pressures. How often do people rush past diamonds like Mr. Raymond on their way to fool's gold?

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 26, 2003


Let's Keep Church and State Separate

In Montgomery, Alabama battle lines are drawn over the removal of a monument depicting the Ten Commandments. Chief Justice Roy Moore has refused to obey a federal court order to remove the monument from the state's judicial building and has been suspended by a state judicial ethics panel. Supporters of Moore are protesting at the judicial building and a suit has been filed to keep the monument where it is.

Why does the monument have to be removed? Why did Chief Justice Moore refuse to abide by the federal court order to remove it? Why are people taking time out of their lives to go to the judicial building and protest its removal? Why?

There are simple answers to these questions. The kind of answers you get on the evening news. The monument has to be removed because our form of government keeps Church and State separate. Chief Justice Moore is no doubt a devout Christian who believes the Ten Commandments monument is a symbol upon which the United States was founded. The protesters probably believe it necessary to demonstrate against what they see as governmental intrusion on their faith.

There is nothing better to rally a group of people then for them to feel attacked. Just look how the USA responded when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, or consider what happened in the aftermath of 9/11. The gay community was mobilized by the death of Matthew Shepard. A group perceiving an attack from the outside becomes more cohesive.

My opinion about the Ten Commandments monument is that it should be removed to maintain the separation of Church and State. The courts decide what is a violation of Church and State. The courts do not always side with "anti religion" groups. If they did side with the "anti religious" groups then the words "in God we trust" would not be on our legal tender and "under God" would not be in our pledge. "Pro religious" groups are always pushing the envelope in their favor and seek to set up Nativity scenes during the Christmas holidays or erect crosses or other religious symbols in government places. The courts examine these cases which are usually "gray" areas. They decide like a parent settling a squabble between two siblings.

There are very good reasons for keeping Church and State separate. The word theocracy means "rule by the deity." Historically, theocracies have been disastrous. They usually do not last beyond the generation that founded them. Theocracies are intolerant and tend to persecute individuals who do not accept what the person in charge says is the word of God. They are often corrupt and just flat do not work.

John Calvin was persecuted in France for religious reasons for his part in the reformation. Eventually he established a theocratic government that sentenced some 60 nonbelievers to death. In the seventeenth century the American Colonies under the Puritans were a theocracy. The witch trials resulted from Puritan rule. Muslim theocracies are evident in the Taliban's recent reign in Afghanistan and current Iranian government.

The founders of Alcoholic's Anonymous knew that to name God would be to exclude many from their program. A "Higher Power" is mentioned instead recognizing the importance of believing in something beyond self. One's higher power could be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, or anything.

Our government allows its citizens to practice their religion. No one religion gets the upper hand or is allowed to be discriminated against.

In my opinion the protesters in support of the monument staying are wrong. Would they be protesting to keep the monument if it were a Buddha or a symbol of another religion? Probably not. They are protesting because this religious symbol happens to be one of which they approve. As a Christian myself I would encourage them to direct their energy toward the work of Christ and let God defend the faith. What is the work of Christ? To express God's love through deeds - substance not in form only. To feed the hungry, to help the poor, to heal the sick, to visit those in prison, and to help widows and orphans. How many of those did they pass on their way to the protest?

Jesus became angry whenever people placed form over substance. He called the pious religious leaders seeking to destroy him white washed tombs, clean and white on the outside, but on the inside rotting corpses. He did not protest, instead he taught and he acted. Loud talk and protest may make an individual feel like he/she has done something - but what? Have they advanced the faith they espouse? I do not believe so.

Our nation is big on protest and protesting. We choose one side and yell at the other. We gather with our like minded brethren and tell ourselves we are right and they are wrong. We know that everything they say is wrong because they are saying it. They know that everything we say is wrong because we are saying it. It is the form of discussion without substance. No listening, no compromise, no attempt to understand or to open our minds. The truth is usually somewhere between the two sides and we must walk toward the other if we are ever to find it.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 25, 2003


I See Castles

I was enrolled in a doctoral program in counseling and psychology and working as a clinical associate in a psychiatric hospital. Learning was coming from experience and in the classroom. I did extra tasks at work for learning purposes. The psychologist was all to happy to let me score MMPI's (personality test). It saved him time and all he had to do was discuss the tests and interpretations with me. One of the psychiatrists was working on some dual diagnosis research and I volunteered to do computer work for him. At the time I was getting online with a 300 baud modem and dialing into Compuserve. I was able to search Medline through a service called Paper Chase. I got him lots of abstracts and in return got to discuss different aspects of dual diagnosis research with him.

It is easy to be a star at work. Most employers are elated if someone comes in on time and does what they are supposed to do. If an employee goes the extra mile he/she is a real stand out. It paid off for me, because the doctor was leaving our hospital for another psychiatric hospital in New Orleans and he hired me as his Program Director.

I did not even know what a program director was, but I was determined to find out and be a good one. Now out of the front line work and into the corporate scene, I had a lot to learn. This was my first break. I was 31, married with a three year old son and in need of extra money.

One of the perks, at least I thought it was a perk at the time, was going to restaurants on the hospital's nickel. We were encouraged to take referral sources to marketing lunches. We had accounts at a number of restaurants so all one had to do was sign for the meal. It made me feel like I was cool. One particular meal was in the evening at one of New Orleans' finest restaurants - The Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel. We had drinks, appetizers, salad, entree', dessert, and coffee. We had it all. The service was exceptional as one might expect. I was eating up what I thought to be a glamorous lifestyle - at least flashes of one. Granted this was how I was experiencing it.

After our meal and business talk it came time to go. It was not that late, so I called Barbara to come pick me up. We were not rich yet and a $9 cab ride was something to avoid if Barbara could pick me up. So I waited in the lobby for a while then walked outside to admire the beautiful landscaping. The cool fall air made for a comfortable evening. The trees were illuminated with little twinkling lights. I stood there with a light buzz from the alcohol and a stomach full of expensive food. All of the stars were not in the sky that night - there were a few in my eyes as well.

After about 20 minutes, Barbara pulled up near the front door where I was standing. She was in our clunky 1978 Mustang. It's paint had lost it's shine and the right front fender was caved in where Barbara hit one of those yellow concrete poles in a parking lot. The valet started to walk toward the car, but I waved him off. I am sure he was getting ready to politely tell her to get this hunk of junk out of here.

When I opened the door to get in I saw my son in his car seat in the back. He was wide awake and looking around. He was pointing and saying, "Look daa-ee" (he did not pronounce the middle d's) "I see castles." I followed the line from his little three year old finger and he was pointing up to the trees and tall buildings I had been marveling at just moments before. "Yes" I said, "the lights are pretty huh." He kept saying it as we drove out of the hotel compound. "I see castles, big castles."

His words hit me between the eyes. He put into words what I was feeling. I was being slowly hypnotized by the allure of cool and style, but as our family drove home I knew what had real value. The lights and buildings were impressive, but my castle was a little two bedroom apartment in student housing. My treasure was driving the car and riding in the back seat. I have never looked at the glitz and glamour the same since.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, August 24, 2003


How Do They Know That?

When I was 18 I was ashamed of my father and how little he knew. When I became 21 I was amazed how much he had learned in three years. -Mark Twain

I always got caught. If I did something wrong my parents knew it. I did not become paranoid, but I did give up on lying and breaking rules - because I always got caught! I was not perfect by any stretch. My honesty and rule following was more a convention than evidence of high values. How did they know? My parents were not brighter than other parents. They possessed no special skills in surveillance to which I was aware. Just let me whisper a cuss word into a pillow in a closet and I would soon be tasting ivory soap. Attempts to sneak cookies or candy beneath the radar were pointless - it was all counted and inventoried. Trying to give a BS explanation for why the knees of my jeans were grass stained was as transparent as air to my mother.

I should have caught on earlier, but I did not. Instead, I tried other more creative ways to avoid trouble and get out of it. I remember this one time I came up with an idea to end spankings. When I was coming up spankings were much more common than today. I got my share of spankings especially when I was younger than say age 10. My parents used a paddle that was once a toy. Talk about insult to injury. . . If you are familiar with the wooden paddleball toy then you are familiar with what used to smack my back side when my parents thought I needed more than words to adjust my behavior. My mom bought us the paddleball toy which I think was a predetermined method of outfitting her punishment arsenal. As soon as the little rubber band broke, the toy became an instrument of torture. I think they could have made those rubber bands with more endurance than the pitiful rubber threads they did use. They usually broke during the first play session - then the toy became mom's new discipline helper. Mom gave the paddle a name. She called it "Rosy" because "it makes your cheeks rosy," she would say proudly. She even drew a little face on it with red magic marker.

Rosy lived in the hall closet and she came out if my mom or dad ever got to the feared number three. If one of us kids was doing something wrong we got a warning in the form of counting. ONE . . .TWO (usually spoken louder and about one octave higher) . . . . .THREE!!! (spoken just a bit louder but snappier). If the dreaded "three" was uttered all talking had ended. I am having PTSD writing this. Right after "THREE!!!", were the footsteps. Bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp - hard, quick footsteps heading toward the closet to get Rosy. The closet door would open with a turn of a squeaky door handle. Then hurried rummaging sounds like a pill-head searching for some oxycontin - then the door closes and the footsteps resume. Bomp, bomp, coming toward you, bomp, bomp, they are getting louder, bomp, bomp, there is nowhere to run. Pleas of "no, no, I'll be good" fall on deaf ears - Rosy does the talking now. It was hard to follow instructions at this juncture. Often the spankee was held by one arm and instructed not to use hands to protect the target. This would begin a circular dance. In the end, Rosy would exact her pound of flesh then all would return to normal.

As I was playing one day I opened the hall closet and happened upon Rosy. She was not so tough without my parents around. I picked her up then it came to me as clear as I knew my own name. I had the thought - if you get rid of Rosy, you will be getting rid of spankings. I was a genius. Why didn't I think of this before? I walked outside and threw Rosy on our roof. To me the roof was an abyss from which nothing would ever return.

That night it rained and the wind blew but I slept comfortably in the assurance that can only come from the knowledge of a certainty that I would never be spanked again. This peace was enjoyed until the next afternoon. When I came in from school the next day my dad was reading the paper which was his normal routine. "Johnny," he said in a voice that let me know there would probably be a series of questions to follow. "What," I said having no idea what awaited. "Did you throw Rosy on the roof?" How did he know? I could not believe it - something came back from the abyss. "Yes," I said and beginning to get that feeling that comes with getting into trouble. "Why did you do that son?" he asked in a puzzled tone. "I thought I wouldn't get anymore spankings if I got rid of the paddle," I said truthfully. Well, I was wrong, because Rosy exacted her noble rights on my back side once again thus ending another great plan of mine.

I was home from college once and sat in my father's spot at the kitchen table while he sat in my traditional place. I looked to my right and noticed the window on the opened back door was like a mirror. I could see a large portion of the backyard. If I moved the door, I could have visual access of the entire backyard. I shared my discovery with my father, "Look dad, you can see the whole back yard if you move this door around - see here in the glass?" In a matter-of-fact tone my father responded, "Yes I know. How do you think I always knew what you were doing in the backyard?" I felt like the guy in the cartoons when he turns into a jackass and begins to bray - hee, haw, heeee, haw. We both had a good laugh.

I wonder what other secrets they had to keep me in line?

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, August 23, 2003


Mr. Herman

I quickly settled into a routine as a clinical associate. I was learning quickly the reality of psychiatric care. The hospital I worked for had 36 beds separated into two units. One unit was for treating psychiatric patients both adults and adolescents, and the other unit was for treating chemical dependency.

Clinical associates were responsible for 4 to 6 patients during the shift. My responsibility was to make sure each patient got to the daily scheduled groups and activities and any other applicable appointments. I had to be aware of who was on visual contact. The medical director I mentioned in the last post Wayne was known to ask a clinical associate, "who are your patients?" You had better be able to blurt them out without having to think about it. The next question from the doctor was, "are any of them on VC (visual contact)?" You better know that one too. The last question was, "where are they?" If they were not in sight, he would fire you on the spot. I saw this happen. Wayne was a hard ass all of the time and a prick most of the time. In retrospect I do not disagree with this method of his. He was teaching us that visual contact was important. Patients were on visual contact for their safety. If the precaution was not being maintained they could be in danger. I was at one other hospital when a patient committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt. He was on visual contact, but obviously not within the sight of staff.

It was stressful being accountable for patient's behavior. The culture there was to blame the staff for the crazy behavior of patients. Other patients were work intensive. Geriatric patients often required total care. They required assistance getting out of bed, getting to the restroom, bathing, dressing, and eating. CA's (clinical associates) would try all sorts of things in hopes to avoid these difficult assignments.

I did it too. I tried coming in late, volunteering for a transport assignment, or volunteering to run an errand, hoping that the nurse would have to assign the patient to someone else while I was gone. Nothing I tried ever worked to my satisfaction. I finally tried a different approach.

We had this one difficult patient who required total care. His name was Mr. Herman and he was a tall, sturdy, African American man 77 years of age. He was a big man probably weighing 215 lbs. He had suffered a stroke and required help getting up, walking and assistance for everything else. He was gentle and did not resist or fight, but he could no longer communicate and he became aggravated easily.

It seemed like I was getting stuck with Mr. Herman a lot. Getting Mr. Herman assigned to you meant a day of hard work. Like everyone else I angled to avoid being assigned him. Usually all that did was give me a late start to take care of him. Then I had a flash of genius. Why not volunteer to be Mr. Herman's CA all the time. If I knew going in Mr. Herman was my patient I would eliminate the cat-and-mouse game I was playing and losing most of the time. My coworkers would like me more since I am taking the hardest patient. This worked too, the other CA's were glad to divide up my other work amongst themselves if it meant they did not have to deal with Mr. Herman.

I became Mr. Herman's personal attendant. I got better at helping him and my appreciation for him grew. I started seeing him as a proud man whose health had declined quickly. It was easier to understand how he must have felt. For a capable, strong, and proud man to suddenly lose his ability to move around and to communicate is a severe blow to the ego. Then if you are treated like a pain in the ass or a chore it is only further insult and injury to the ego.

One Monday afternoon, Mr. Herman taught me something else. Gail another CA who had been in this line of work for at least 20 years at this level told me, "I don't think Mr. Herman has had a bowel movement for two days." She went on to say a few choice things about the weekend shift, their uncaring and incompetence drew her ire. "We need to give him an enema," she said. I said, "OK," having no idea what I was about to experience.

Gail spoke with the charge nurse who agreed with her that Mr. Herman did indeed need an enema so after she gathered a few supplies, we entered the patient's room. I was along for the ride never having witnessed much less administered an enema. She took a little squeeze bottle full of liquid and with Mr. Herman on his side inserted it into his rectum and began to squeeze causing the warm liquid to lubricate the bowels.

Once she emptied the entire contents of liquid into Mr. Herman Gail stood back with a puzzled look on her face. "Something usually happens by now," she said in a puzzled tone. I had no experience from which to give her any further recommendations, but I began to reason the whole thing out. "I wonder if he needs his cheeks spread out a little to let things get moving," I said employing my best logic. "Maybe," Gail replied, she was in unfamiliar territory along with me. "Alright, then let me give him a hand with that." I said reaching my hands towards Mr. Herman's rear end.

Both Gail and I were wearing rubber gloves and gowns. Mr. Herman was lying on his side on the bed. I was positioned on the legs side of his rear end and Gail was facing me on the head side of Mr. Herman's rump. I then placed my right hand on the top cheek and my left hand on the lower cheek. After only spreading his cheeks a slight distance something happened and it happened fast. I can still remember the sound it made, but even more spectacular was the projectile turd that shot out of Mr. Herman's ass. With Gail and I looking at each other, the turd shot out between us and as it eclipsed us it was gaining altitude. The force to push it out must have been incredible, but the sheer weight of the turd became the greater force and gravity brought it down about one foot beyond the bed. The turd had to be at least 18" long. Mr. Herman let out a groan similar to the sound one usually only hears during childbirth. We were laughing so hard staff from outside came into the room to see if we were OK. Mr. Herman kept groaning to express his relief.

As incredible was the visual event the smell was more extreme. I had to tie a towel around my face to be able to stay in the room. Gail was tending to Mr. Herman and I was problem solving how to scoop up the large object lying on the floor next to the bed. I kept an eye on it half expecting it to move. Horror movies have started out this way I thought.

I found a plunger and a plastic bed pan. With a few clumsy moves of the plunger I had the waste material in the bed pan. I then dumped it in the toilet. It was not that simple though. The turd was so dense it would not break apart and flush. It just laid there and after the fifth or sixth flush I tried a different tact. The plunger worked well as a turd splitter. I cut it into several pieces until it finally flushed. They say black holes are dense, I bet this turd was well on its way to similar density.

We had a good laugh and even Mr. Herman chuckled a bit, but mostly he was relieved. Such are the rewards of front line work. I cannot say I miss contact with patients this intimate, but I am glad I have the experiences. I believe in learning the business from the ground up. Today I am one of those I mentioned already who can come and go as they please. I have paid my dues Mr. Herman and Gail saw to that.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 22, 2003


My First Job in Psych

I did not go to school to be a counselor. When I started college I felt led to be a minister. I graduated with a BA and a double major, religion and psychology. Next stop New Orleans to attend seminary. I completed my Master of Divinity and took a job in Rock Island, IL. After having studied seven years and working summers in various capacities as a minister I realized I was in the wrong line of work for me. It was a growing realization.

This realization came when I attended a seminar to learn how to administer a personality test called the Myers-Briggs and a marriage counseling test named Prepare / Enrich. I was very fascinated with the counseling side of things and partially based on my personality test results realized I was not really pastor material. A valid position, but it was not for me. Some day I will go into more detail about this, because it was not a simple thing or clear choice. It was a process that took several weeks if not months.

Well after two years in Illinois, Barbara and I returned to New Orleans. I enrolled in the an Ed.D. program in counseling and psychology at the seminary. I never graduated, but I completed all of the requirements except writing my dissertation. Believe me I have been ragged about that over the years. Anyway, before I could qualify for the doctoral program, I had to earn about 18 hours of masters level psychology courses to complete all of the admission requirements. During that time I applied for my first job at a psychiatric hospital. What follows is an account of what turned out to be a very trying time for me.

When I returned to school in New Orleans I entered familiar territory. My former room mate, now married was working at a psychiatric hospital as a clinical associate. Other names for the position are aid, tech, mental health worker. This job falls under nursing. It is entry level and you work directly with the patients. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers come and go as they please, but the techs have to stay with the patients. They maintain the levels of observation like visual contact. They give the patients their sharps (toiletries) and check them back in. They monitor their whereabouts, walk them to meals and therapies, accompany them on outside appointments, and take vital signs.

Richard told me they needed more clinical associates so he would speak to the nurse manager about me and try to get me a job. I had hope. Not only did a job look promising, but it was going to be in my field of study. What a great deal. Sure enough, Richard got me an interview with Kathy the nurse manager. Kathy was a nice lady, very outgoing and proud of her Italian heritage. The interview went well. She let on that she would recommend me for hire, but I still had to interview with the medical director and the administrator.

I figured I was in. With a friend vouching for me and the person who would be my boss liking me what could go wrong? The medical director was a young guy. He wore a leather jacket and proclaimed himself "the Miami Vice of psychiatry." He had the kind of ego that made Narcissus look like he had an inferiority complex. He came from wealth and trained at one of the ivy league schools back east. He focused on my eyesight a lot. I was used to people having questions, but I normally set folks at ease. I am resourceful and adaptive. By this time in my life I knew my limitations and did not attempt something I did not know I could do where work is concerned. I did not expect any special treatment or accommodations on the job. He continued to ask me what I would do if an adolescent patient made fun of me and how would I get to work if I could not drive. He asked questions that to me were not even issues, but my answers did not seem to end his inquisition. Funny how the people who should be most understanding are sometimes the least understanding.

I did not get the job. I thought for sure I had it, but no dice. I heard from Kathy that the medical director and administrator thought I would be a liability due to my poor eyesight. I was angry, but mostly hurt. I can handle failure, but not "getting a chance to swing the bat" tore at me. It was a familiar scenario. I was often told I could not do something I knew deep down I could do. I had also learned that some people see far worse due to their self-imposed limitations they accept. I am not talking about eyesight, but vision of the mind. I had to move on and find another way.

This was in October of 1985. Nothing emerged right away. Eventually I had a promising lead at a rescue mission in New Orleans to work with an alcoholic treatment program. Before I had accepted the position officially I received a call from the administrator of the hospital that turned me down for the psych tech job.

Sam hemmed and hawed to say something to the affect, "sometimes you make a mistake by not giving a person a chance and we would like to give you a chance." He did not say this exactly, but it was the meaning I understood. Then to my surprise, Sam offered me a job as a security guard. Without thinking I blurted out, "wouldn't I need to have better vision to be a security guard than to be a psych tech?" I was told that if I did well as a security guard, I could eventually move to the clinical associate job. Security guard was a generous term for what I did. No gun or uniform - just a name tag and a vague job description. The new building for the hospital was under consruction so that was my post. Walking around in a nearly completed building.

I started working nights as a security guard at a psychiatric hospital. Barbara dropped me off for the 11 - 7 shift, then drove back to the apartment. We had to get John out, now 9 months, each night since there was no one at home to watch him while she drove me to work. In the morning I took the bus to school, rode the bus home in the afternoon and got some sleep before getting up about 10:00 PM to get ready for work and replay the process.

I began in January and only because of my bugging them was I able to switch to a psych tech job. In March of 1986 I was given my first position in psychiatry. I should not have had to jump through all of those hoops, but I am glad I did. We do not often get a lot of say so about our journey. I would have been justified to tell them to shove the security job, but by taking it, I eventually got what I first sought. Life is about settling for close enough a lot of the time.

One of the morals of this story is to break your goals down into smaller goals. Be flexible. Keep in mind what you want and be willing to crawl a bit to get it. So far it has worked for me.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 21, 2003


Life Is Tough

Life is tough. Take tonight for instance. I got off of work about 4:15 PM. We went by the local grocery store and bought some beer and ice. Next we drove home and changed from the slacks, shirt, and tie to shorts, t-shirt, and hat. After putting some beer in an ice chest and icing it down, we loaded it in the car and drove 1.5 miles to the river and met our newly wed friends Neal and Angelique who were putting their new boat in the water.

We averted disaster when Angelique side swiped my cooler full of beer when she pulled the boat trailer out of the river. Like in the movies, I saw it unfold in slow motion. My ice chest was sitting in the parking lot, the SUV turning too sharp for the trailer to clear - noooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!! But too late, the awful sight of the chest turning over and skidding on its side will no doubt be permanently etched in my memory. By a stroke of luck the beer stayed in its place. I did not even lose an ice cube.

This incident is in stark contrast to one of our famous limo rides from the North Shore to New Orleans. Occasionally about four couples rent a limo and ride into the Big Easy for a night of bar hopping. This particular night the limo experienced problems driving across the causeway - the "World's Longest Bridge." The Causeway is a 24.88 mile bridge from Mandeville on the North Shore to Metairie on the South Shore. Anyway, the limo we were riding in just quit and we coasted to a stop in the darkness. The car had no power at all, no headlights, no taillights, nothing. We were sitting motionless on a two lane bridge in the dark. I could just see us getting rammed from behind bringing a tragic conclusion to an otherwise fun evening. We decided to disembark the limo and wait on the side of the bridge. As we hurriedly evacuated the vehicle tragedy struck. When it came my turn to get out, my foot drug a big bottle of Jack Daniels out of the limo onto the hard concrete of the bridge. I will never forget that awful sound of breaking glass on the bridge in the stillness of the Louisiana night. That Jack Daniels was so young, so innocent, now the precious liquid was pooled on a bridge amidst shards of broken glass dripping into Lake Pontchartrain. It was a Florida bottle of Jack Daniels, 1.75 liters. We call the biggest size bottle a Florida bottle since that is the size we take with us when we go to Florida.

The sound stopped everyone in their tracks. What was to have been a festive evening was now a tragic nightmare. We were thirty minutes from New Orleans and no Jack Daniels. All we had to drink was wine. We began to question if we would be able to make it, but we pressed on courageously. At least my friends were understanding about the whole thing. They knew that at that time we were trying to save ourselves from a fiery crash. What was one bottle of Jack Daniels compared to a saved life? I remember Brian's words of comfort. "Way to go you $u#)ing A$$#o*%. Are you some kind of *&%$@#& spaz or something?" Brian was courageously covering up his pain with some humor. I felt so supported. I reminded them the limo driver warned us not to put the Jack Daniels by the door, because it could fall out. Marty offered support to go with Brian's heart felt words. "I can't believe you're stupidity - you blind M*(He^ F#&%e@." He was joking too. They all knew it could have been any one of us. The limo driver finally got the car started and we took what seemed like the longest ride to New Orleans ever. The limo quit a few more times that night and they finally got another car for us.

Well, back to why life is tough. After the drama of the near miss with the beer, we got on the boat and headed down the Tchefuncta River toward Madisonville - a little town at the point where the Tchefuncta empties into Lake Pontchartrain. The ride was pleasant enough. It was a little cloudy, but cool for this time of year. The cyprus trees lining the river were green and lush. The water was smooth due to no breeze and light river traffic.

It is about a two beer ride from 4th Street in Covington to Madisonville. We arrived, tied the boat down and walked a short distance to one of the several restaurants which face the river. Amidst the live oaks adorned with Spanish moss are several quaint buildings that were once homes. Now they are eateries. The one we chose is called Anna Lisa's. Anna Lisa is the daughter of some local successful restauranteurs. The food was great. I had a cup of turtle soup and for the main course - veal panne'. Barbara had trout almondine. No complaints about the food.

As we sat in the riverside restaurant, the skies opened up and dumped rain like we had not seen in awhile. Lightening was extra active and a real light show ensued. When we finished eating, it was still raining so we called my son who drove the 8 miles or so to pick us up. Neal will come back in the AM to get his boat.

So life is tough, huh? What will I do this weekend?

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 20, 2003


The Plastic Bag

After reading this post, download this MP3. It is a pretty song about a lady in a nursing home. Listen to the words and see if you can put yourself in her place. The song is "Look Out My Window" the artist is Beth Lodge-Rigal. NOTE: If you have a fast connection the song will download in about one minute. 56K modem may take 5 minutes or so, be patient, the song is worth it.

The lobby of our hospital is often the place where patients are transferred from the ambulance crew to our hospital staff. This day was no different and routine by previous standards. An elderly lady was lying on a gurney and held to it by three wide belts. She was confused and mumbling something I could not understand. Her hands reached out in seemingly purposeless motions. She was a typical geriatric patient being admitted for medication stabilization.

I always greet whoever is brought in by saying their name. "Hi Miss Clara, my name is John." I diverted my attention to the attendant with his clip board and signed to accept the lady. Then he handed me a brown envelope with Miss Clara's recent medical records. The last thing I was given was a big blue trash bag with a few clothes items and sundry possessions. "Here's her things," he said in a matter-of-fact way. We thanked each other and went our separate ways. I to the unit with Miss Clara and the ambulance crewman back to his job.

Every now and then something routine penetrates my familiarity and I can see it differently. Holding that plastic bag containing Miss Clara's personal things was one of those times. She had come from a nursing home and could not return. Usually when a facility does not want the person back they say something like. "Miss Clara is going to need a different level of care, we can no longer provide for her needs." What they are really saying is, "hot potato, you've got her, don't call us." The bag I held was all of her possessions. No family or anyone else to keep up with her, to visit her. She was alone, confused, and lying on a gurney in the lobby of a psychiatric hospital.

I wondered what her life had been like. Had she been married? Did she have any children? What did she do for a living? Maybe she was a secretary or a teacher. I bet she never expected to end up here, I thought. I wondered if someday I would suffer a similar fate. Alone, confused, and passed from one institution to the next with my welfare a lower priority than some institution's cost report.

She was dehumanized a little bit at a time until her dignity was a distant memory. Without communication she could not relate what was no doubt an interesting life. They are all interesting you know. Without family or friends to advocate she lacked connections we all find absolutely necessary in life.

Seniors are easy targets for humor. Their bodies have weathered years of life and show it. Their minds may not remember like they used to. Their voices may be weak and shakey. My grandfather would laugh at someone when sensing he was the butt of an "old folks" joke. "You'll be old too," he said "if you live long enough." This statement was usually followed by a patient and knowing laugh. My mother once spotted an old timer sporting a big button on his overalls sitting at a Wal-Mart snack bar that read, "Old Age Ain't for Sissies." Someday seniors get to the point they need the same level of care they needed when they entered the world. That care too needs to be delivered with gentleness and love. If we begin raising the standards of care for our seniors today - maybe it will be acceptable to us the day we need it. Just a thought.

Here's to the old folks. May we turn our love your way and may it bring you comfort in your last days.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Backing Off Is Hard To Do

John is starting college in one week. College is a topic I know something about. I spent about eleven years in higher education. That makes me a wealth of information for my son, but is he taking advantage of it? No. As a matter of fact, he is correcting my misconceptions and false beliefs about the whole thing. I guess I expected him to come up to me and say something like, "Dad, you really know a lot about college, in your massive accumulation of knowledge, would you please give me some advice about the college experience?" Or maybe I thought he would say, "Dad, I realize more and more each day how your past experiences can teach me so much. I would like to learn from those experiences - please share with me what you think I should know."

That did not happen. Now I have been miffed a few times in this process, but I got to thinking about some differences between me and him regarding starting college. I was not involved in high school. I had nothing to leave behind. My friends had already scattered to the point I rarely saw them. I was glad to get out of high school. College was the hope of something better - it had to be. My dad had always told me. "Son, high school is the happiest time in your life - enjoy it." Man, I thought, if this is the best . . .life is going to be a drag.

Now for John. He was a big shot at high school. He was the captain of the basketball team. He always had a girlfriend. He was close to three other friends and they had all sorts of fun together. He was popular and he had fun. He would like to stay in that mode. So college for him can only be as good as high school - but maybe worse.

We had different experiences. As he transitions from high school to college freshman he may begin to ask the questions I have been trying to answer. I will be there if he needs me, but I am going to back off and give him some growing room. He won't make any major mistakes - I will be close enough to sense that.

Parenting John has been pretty easy. He has a naturally easy going demeanor. Here are a few things I have learned about parenting.

Children are people entrusted to parents for the purpose of preparing for life. They are not possessions or apprentices. I realize that to help John now I have to back off a bit but I won't be far away. What a wonderful thing to be a parent.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 18, 2003



Have you ever thought about what was on your property 100 years ago? 200 years ago? If you have you were thinking about history. This picture is part of my history. On the right is my great grandfather Hans Christian Andersen (not THE Hans Christian Andersen) with his two brothers, still in Denmark sometime in the 1890's. It blows my mind to look at this picture and think I descended from him.

On another note New Orleans is celebrating the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. This 800,000 square mile area became some 13 states and more than doubled the size of our country in 1803. The history in Louisiana is rich. The cultures of the French, Spanish, Native Americans, and Cajuns along with the events of several wars make for endless learning.

What about where you live? What of your local history? I bet there is something interesting there. Why not take in a museum or read a book of local history. It will increase your appreciation for where you live and hopefully make you see your place in your area's history.

The lack of history is evident in many political and news debates. Armed with the knowledge of history helps expose the difference between truth and fiction. Knowing history avoids the wasteful pursuit of reinventing the wheel. We are not that different from people who have lived before us. So before you go too far ahead, look back awhile. Learn from the past and help forge a better future.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, August 17, 2003



My greatest treasure is my friends. Yesterday, a jewel from the past resurfaced. I was sitting at the computer around 6:00 PM when I heard a knock at the door. I usually ignore any knock, because most people just walk in. But this time I got up and went to the door. I was greeted with a big hug from a friend I had not seen in two or three years - Linda. Some women have an extra ability or quality that makes them even more compatible with guys than other women. I think it has a lot to do with being raised with brothers. Linda had this. What is this quality you ask? I will try to explain.

If an off-color joke is told in a group of men and women, often women respond with the "oh that's terrible, let's change the subject, I'm offended" type answer. But some, perhaps more enlightened women will laugh and tell one of their own. Linda was one of the women in the latter category. Still very much a lady, but when men were being men, she did not have to leave the room or fain being shocked and appalled. These are my kind of women. I can be myself and they do not punish me for being a man. They are the women capable of explaining "women things" in a way a man can understand. Most of all, they are really fun to be around.

Linda and Bill, her boyfriend for the past five years (a record for Linda and the guy who would date her) were house hunting in our town. Bill is getting transferred at his job and wants to live in this area. After passing by our house a couple of times they decided to pop in and I am so glad they did. We had a few drinks, caught up on each other's news, and regaled ourselves with past exploits. Bill and Linda took us to dinner at a little Mexican restaurant nearby. The food was great and we continued our catching up. Opting to go home and show off the new coffee maker that grinds beans just before dripping we headed back home. Surprise! the electricity was off, some sort of New York imitation. I rummaged around and found a florescent lantern and in the glow of the 6 volt generated illumination we continued our talking.

Bill and Linda are into sailing. They shared some of their adventures on the high seas. Linda has turned into quite a sailor. She captain's boats in sail boat races and is a sought after crewman on the racing circuit. It did not surprise me. I told her she already had two prerequisites for being a sailor. (1) You like to drink (2) You have mastery of English swear words. I have heard her put together strings of curse words that made me stand in awe. Rap singers could learn a thing or two from Linda. I do not want to paint a picture of Linda having a foul mouth, just that if the situation calls for it, she has the ability to go there.

Eventually the lights came back on and I made the coffee I promised them. Of course we had our additives, Irish Whiskey, Kahlua, and Frangelico. I was out of Irish Cream. We kept talking and laughing and forging another event that would be a sweet memory of tomorrow. This is why I count friends as my greatest treasure. My definition of family includes my friends. They are the people you love and care about. They are the people who love and care about me. If I had the whole world, but had no friends it would not satisfy me. But, if I had one friend and just the essentials of life I would consider myself a rich man. I do consider myself rich - rich in friends and Linda is just one of the jewels in my treasure chest.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, August 16, 2003


I Love Music

I love music - all forms of music - depending on my mood I can enjoy a wide range of it. I am glad too, because some folks have narrow tastes in music and most of what I hear from them regarding music is "I don't like that or that music annoys me." By all means, if music annoys you stay away from it, but for me it is as necessary as plasma and oxygen.

My mother tells me I responded to music as a baby. According to her I would drop whatever I was doing when music began to play and try to get closer to it. I like music loud best. I want to hear the musician's fingers sliding on the guitar strings. I want to hear the pianist's foot pressing the pedals. I want to hear the breath they take before singing. When I really listen and notice all of the instruments an appreciation for that piece grows.

Music is one of those common threads one of those anchors I have spoken of previously. When a song plays it triggers memories whether good or bad. Think of a time a song comes on the radio or CD player and someone stops in mid-sencence and says, "Oh, turn that up, that reminds me of . . ." The reverse is also true when a song comes on and someone goes, "Turn that off or switch stations, that reminds me of. . ."

When I hear Barbra Streisand sing "The Way We Were" I am reminded of my first date ever. It was with a girl named Mary Ann. That song brings back sweet memories of first love followed by a reminder of my first broken heart. When I hear the Ray Conniff Singers "Tiny Bubbles" I envision the Shawnee Bowl where I spent a few afternoons. At that time we hated that "old folks" music. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" was on continuous play at my friends first apartment. Music was there when I was happy, music was there when I was sad, it is at weddings and funerals and when I hear it the memories bubble to the surface. I think the process of having these memories stirred whether positive or negative is healing and necessary. I feel the sad along with the happy. If I do this, the sad may become comforting. Like looking at a picture of a lost loved one. The feelings are bittersweet. More bitter at first, but as years go by more sweet.

If you want to cry or laugh or take a walk down memory lane just listen to music. You know the music that will unlock your memories. Embrace it, use it. I credit music for being able to center me. It helps me release anger, bitterness, and stress. It fills me with inspiration, hope, energy, love, and ambition.

Here's to music in every form.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 15, 2003


I Have Fallen In Love Again

When I was young I loved her with the purity of a child. She broke my heart more than once, but my love remained true. More and more she took me for granted and though I sensed something was wrong, I did not speak of it. I told myself things were OK, she was just going through a phase, she would change, things would be as they were before. In time I could no longer rationalize her hurtful actions. My hurt turned to anger and I finally walked away from her. As I walked, an aching void grew in the place that once held love. I thought it would never heal and it never did completely. Then I happened upon her one spring day. Spring offers hope and promise, but I told myself it was over, it could never be the same. I walked away again, but in midsummer an ember of hope a spark stirred deep within me. I tried to ignore her, but I saw her more and more. She really seemed different, innocent like before. Still I was reluctant, but the embers began to ignite a larger flame and I knew there would be no stopping this feeling - the love I thought was dead was resurrected. --I am a baseball fan again.

Now that I have the ladies attention, let me explain. I grew up loving baseball. As a little boy I listened to the broadcasts of the Kansas City Athletics. My mom and dad and I sat in the backyard listening to the announcer’s voices in the dark. At sunset the local AM radio stations cut power and it was difficult to hear the game. I constantly tweaked the tuning knob to find the ball game. I remember the day my father brought home an FM radio. We attached a long extension cord to it to reach the backyare and listened to the game clearly in the Kansas night. Lightning bugs blinking, crickets chirping, and the hypnotic voices of the A’s announcers became are sweet memories of childhood summers.

I pulled for a team that almost always ended up in the cellar. I knew the players names, their positions, their numbers. I was a fanatic. At least once a year I got to go to Municipal Stadium in Kansas City and watch a game. It was like a trip to Mecca for me. The smell of the grass, the sound of the crowd, and the smells of peanuts and popcorn were a collision of senses and experiences.

My love for baseball intensified. I never got to play little league ball due to poor eyesight, but I played everyday in our neighborhood. At one game in Kansas City, my dad caught a foul ball. That ball now rests on a shelf about twenty feet from where I am now sitting. The A’s left town for Oakland and the Royals were born in 1969. They developed quickly and had three League Championship Series’ with the Yankees who won all three in 76, 77, and 78. Finally in 1980 the Royals went to their first World Series, but lost to Philadelphia.

At last in 1985, the Kansas City Royal won the World Series and George Brett was my hero. My son was 6 months old and I remember throwing him in the air in celebration. I had waited and agonized for so long and now it was a fulfilled dream. My team won the World Series. I could go to my grave a happy man.

That was the Royals high point. Since then they declined and have never returned to the playoffs. Baseball had strikes and other problems. I became disenchanted with the guardians of the game. I felt the players and owners were so greedy and selfish they were going to destroy baseball - at least for me. Last year was more than I could take. When the players threatened another work stoppage and another year without the World Series, my anger turned to apathy. I walked away from baseball.

Then this year Kansas City got a new manager. Tony Pena. Enthusiastic, exciting, inspiring. With a team payroll $110 million less than the Yankees, they won 9 straight to begin the season. The Royals have been in first place and play with the enthusiasm and heart of a little league team. No big stars. No big egos, just hustle, pride, and heart. This team won my heart back to baseball and reconnected a thread which links my childhood with my adulthood.

When my son was growing up he played baseball. I helped coach. One summer evening under the lights, John was pitching. I thought about my life and his life and all of the lives that had danced across the field on which we were standing. I wrote something to express those thoughts and feelings and I called it “The Stage of Dirt and Grass.” I hope you enjoy it.

The Stage of Dirt and Grass
Engaged in a dance, a rite of passage, choreographed by those who have gone on before - still variations are written and composed as unique as the lives of the dancers who take to this stage of dirt and grass.

Yesterday he was 12 years old pitching his first game. His stomach was filled with butterflies from the fears of possible failure, the hope of success and the realization of responsibility that others were depending on him.

Today he is a father watching his son. Feeling nostalgia and reliving some of the sweet innocent times of his life. A welcome break from the pressure of his reality. He feels butterflies too. This time from the awe that is the realization of life's cycles. Seeing where he has been, knowing where he is and knowing his time is growing short. The feeling that it has all happened so fast, yet able to enjoy the moment and drink in the spring air and sunshine. To put a glove to his face and be reminded of the smells of childhood. The smell of the leather and the grass transporting him back in time one sense at a time.

Tomorrow, he is a grandfather, now sitting in the stands. Observing, even more philosophical, at peace. The familiarity of the game and the sights and sounds are comforting. No matter what has changed in the world during his long life, this game has not. It is still the place boys begin to learn what it is to be a man. To work as a group, to win and lose with dignity, to encourage, to be humbled, to accept a challenge, to conquer a fear or work through a pain.

The lessons of baseball are endless, so too is the never ending stream of sons, fathers and grandfathers sharing in at least one common thread that runs through their lives. The stage of dirt and grass.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 14, 2003


Domestic Violence Is Not Funny

This video, “Big Mama Beatdown” has been making the rounds on the internet. To view the video CLICK HERE. If for some reason you cannot view the video I will describe it for you.

The video opens with a rather large, but nimble African American woman helping an African American man up off the ground. Once up, the man hits her hard in the face with a roundhouse right. The woman charges him and gets him down. She gains the advantage and begins to pummel him as children walk around nonchalantly. For nearly two and a half minutes this woman punishes this obviously drunk man by repeatedly hitting him, dragging him, and throwing him to the ground. Laughter is heard throughout the video from the camera man and other, apparent neighbors standing nearby. Finally, the beating ends when a bystander intervenes and walks the drunken and beaten man off the street.

I am going to make a few assumptions. First, I believe someone captured a real event not a hoax. Second, I believe the two fighters are a couple. Third, I believe the two children in the video belong to one or both of the fighters.

“Big Mama Beatdown” was billed by one of my friends as really funny. I watched expecting to be laughing my ass off I felt disturbed instead. Maybe because my wife worked in battered women’s shelters for five years or maybe because I ran a batterers program for a couple of years myself, but to me it was not funny.

Granted, I do not know the context of this event. What had transpired between these two prior to the time the camera started rolling? Did he deserve the beating? That was a trick question. Any domestic violence training condemns retaliation and violence. That is because violence begets violence. This woman had ample opportunity to walk away. I will grant her the initial defense of the wicked shot she took. She reacted and fought back, but she then methodically wiped up the neighborhood with him.

She was not crazed but workman like. When the little girl asked her a question about a broken toy the calm reply was, “Don’t show me that at this particular time.” Beating a man down was not something she wanted to shield from a child.

Albert, the drunken punching bag may be a lot of things. At least on one occasion he was intoxicated to the point he almost got himself killed. Shielding children from highly intoxicated adults was not a value he held.

What of the camera man? He videoed the happenings giggling all the while. His commentary when Big Mama drug Albert across the street was, “walking the dog, giggle giggle.” No intervening or scurrying children away.

Loud, hysterical peals of laughter could be heard from other onlookers. This was entertainment for them. This was common place. The police drove by, but nobody flagged them down, only more giggles from chuckles the camera man.

Social problems and statistics are made up of incidents like this one. Discussions about domestic violence often make excuses for perpetrators. When race is discussed, even more excuses are introduced into the discussion. All of the excuses and explanations not holding individuals responsible for their behavior is frankly bullshit.

Whether black, white, or any other race, violence is not acceptable behavior. If the community sees violence and laughs it tells me they are desensitized to it. That means what they laugh at is not violence to them. Children who observe adults engaging in violence learn violence. Why is the number one cause of death for young African American males gunshots?

Violence is a vicious cycle. A community desensitized to it and children growing up in it perpetuates the cycle.

I do not have the answer to domestic violence. Our Nation settles disputes with violence and that is OK. Our families settle disputes with violence and it is a crime. Our media and entertainment is saturated with violence. I participate by watching the movies and I am sure in other ways so I do not write this as one who is pious.

I guess all I can say is that seeing the violence of “Big Mama Beatdown” disturbed me - did it disturb you?

Domestic Violence Information and Statistics
Violence Statistics in America

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Homework for tomorrow's blog: Watch this!

Big Mama Beatdown
is the subject of tomorrow's column. Watch it today so tomorrow's comments will be more relevant. If you have a 56K modem it may take 5 to 10 minutes to download, but it is worth it. The video is in Windows Media Player format. Email me if you have problems getting the video.


Another Day in Paradise

“My land lady cut off my electricity,” he said with little emotion in his quiet voice. “Then she took my broom and mop bucket. She has done a lot of things to me like that.” I responded to his statement, “why do you suppose that is Charlie?” “Well,” he said in a sort of half-laugh, “I think it’s obvious, she wants to go to bed with me.” The group erupted in laughter, but Charlie sat there stoically with a look of self-assurance on his face.

On another occasion I was leading a didactic group and talking about “I language.” The idea of “I language” is to avoid sentences beginning with “you." For example, “You are always late” is better said, “I would appreciate it if you would be on time.” There is a bit more to it than that, but you probably get the gist of it. During the group, one lady kept trying to talk, but was frequently interrupted by another group member. After being cutoff again, Alice could contain herself no longer. “Steve, would you shut up,” she said angrily. I broke in, “Alice, could you put that statement in the form of an “I message.” I was attempting to use the group process to illustrate my point. It was a skillful technique of verbal judo on my part to take the negative energy and reroute it to positive energy. “Certainly,” replied Alice. “Steve, I said shut up.” Fortunately time was up and we had to end group.

One group of adolescents was a bit more lively. At the time, group began by passing a clip board around for sign in. It had something to do with billing. As the clip board was circulating, I began introducing the day’s subject. One girl was having some trouble signing in. She dropped the clip board, then she broke the lead in the pencil. These actions brought a comment from an observant boy on the other end of the group, “stupid,” he said in a way making the word sound as though it had seven syllables. Without hesitation the girl flung the clip board at the name caller “frisbee-like.” It just missed his head and the look of surprise on his face quickly changed to rage. They both stood up and charged toward each other. I made it to the rendezvous point first and they sandwiched me, after which we all fell onto one of the couches in a struggling heap. Before any real damage could be wrought, three mental health techs ran into the room and drug the cursing adolescents away. I straightened my tie and continued. I think a couple of the group members did not even notice the disturbance.

Allen was sobbing, “I am so depressed, I can’t believe she left me.” The group members were offering support and assurance as he talked and cried. Stan was sleeping through the first part of Allen’s heart-wrenching sharing of his innermost thoughts. As Allen continued to talk about how he does not know how he will make it without his girlfriend, and how he wishes she would reconsider, Stan awoke. After a minute or so Stan began laughing loudly. “Are you depressed over a chick?” he laughed as he spoke. “A chick?” he said again with more emphasis. “Man, you can get another chick, I can’t believe you are crying over a chick.” Allen stopped crying and got angry. That may have helped Allen more than the tears. Stan won that days prize for sensitivity.

Just another day in group paradise.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Waiting for the other shoe to drop

Last Thursday when I came home I noticed a little green post card in the mail. It was for one of those letters you have to sign for - one of those letters that is never good news. This one was addressed to my wife Barbara and it was sent from the Louisiana Licensed Professional Counselors Board of Examiners. The LPC board governs our counseling licenses.

My psychologist friend maintains nothing good ever comes by registered mail. He does a lot of custody cases and is always getting subpoenas and little green post cards in the mail. I thought about it once and realized I had never received good news either by way of registered mail. When I gave the card to Barbara, the look on her face told me she had never received good news by registered mail either.

The post office will tell you that registered mail is a good way to ensure your mail is received. The real reason is to nail someone’s ass to the wall or to cover your own ass with a paper trail.

It was after 5:00 PM and the post office was closed. Barbara would have to wait until tomorrow to learn the nature of her bad news. What could it be? Did she do something wrong? Did someone file a complaint? Her mind was off to the races considering scenarios of trouble and recompense. The common thread throughout her theories for the little green post card were of guilt and punishment. She knew she did something wrong and reckoning day was drawing nigh.

I would have stayed to help her figure this out, but I had already committed to my pal to go to New Orleans and meet up with another couple of pals and have a few drinks. (I am a loyal friend huh?) Anyway, Barbara continued to rack her brain to find what must be some sort of mistake she made which rises to the level of sending a green post card as a precursor to impending doom.

When I came in at 3:00 AM (I wanted to come home sooner, but my pals wouldn’t let me go), I noticed a big fat envelope on the counter addressed to an agency Barbara had worked for about a year ago. I took notice, but thought little of it. I headed to bed for my three hours sleep before answering the bell in the morning.

Getting ready for work that morning, Barbara began talking about the little green card. She said “Do you no Bob Smith?” (fake name) “Yes,” I said. She continued, “I bet he turned me in for not closing those cases I had open when I left XYZ Counseling, he is just the sort of person who would do that.” “Do you think?”, I queried, “that seems pretty extreme for a little paperwork.” Barbara presented her case, “I went to the LPC web site and it said you could be disciplined if you do not keep your records up.” “Yeah but dropping a dime on someone without even calling to threaten a complaint first . . doesn’t make sense to me.” Nevertheless, just to be safe, Barbara had spent three hours the night before completing her overdue paperwork for XYZ Counseling.

Later Barbara lamented. “I do not understand. I try to do everything right and really care for the people I work with.” Then she named a few counselors worse than her for various reasons. “Why do I get in trouble for such a nit-picky thing and they get off altogether?”

“Barb, take it easy,” trying to reassure her, “if you can’t think of anything you did, then you probably didn’t do anything. If someone complained it is probably obvious BS and it will all come out, but we don’t even know what the letter says yet.”

Not knowing is always worse than knowing. The fear of something is usually worse than the actual event. We completed getting ready, hopped in the car and drove to the post office. Barbara ran in and returned in a few minutes.

When she returned to the car she was happy and laughing. All of the stress was gone in just a few seconds. The little green post card was a receipt itself - not a notice of a registered letter. The receipt was from Barbara’s supervisee who mailed her packet to the LPC Board. The receipt was to notify Barbara the packet was received at the board. She was not in trouble. She was going to keep her license another day.

We laughed and the irony of the situation was not lost on us. Counselors can get anxious too. Counselors can jump to conclusions too. All of that worry was unfounded. She made herself miserable.

My coworker who is female has tried to explain certain workings of the female mind to me. Men and women react quite differently to situations. She may say to me, “so-and-so is angry because of (insert problem here).” My coworker tries to figure out what we might have done to anger them. I, on the other hand, may say something like, “I got their angry, right here.” Then she will tell me something like, “You will never make a good woman, don’t you understand?” She says that women are driven by two major fears. (1) Am I in trouble? (2) Are they mad at me? Maybe women feel extra responsible. Maybe their guilt was taught to them by their mothers or others like sons, husbands, and fathers. Regardless the origin, it exists.

So ladies, I think some practice might help you. If I tell you “the other shoe is about to drop and you are going to be in trouble,” you tell me, “I GOT YOUR TROUBLE RIGHT HERE.” Try it out, If I say, “you better have that report in by 5:00 PM,” you say, “REPORT? REPORT THIS, I GOT YOUR FREAKING REPORT RIGHT HERE.” But if you decide to continue on in the way you have been, that is OK too, it is just one of the many things that makes women --- women and I for one am not complaining.

Until the next time,
John Strain