Friends and starfish supporters and starfish supporters who are also friends, it’s National Social Work Month! Did you know such a thing existed? I’ve been in the field for three decades and this may be the first time I’ve ever heard of it!

For chuckles, I thought it would be fun to scan some of my old posts and see where and why I mentioned being a social worker. Professional pride? I am, for sure, proud of being in this profession. There was a tone of that here or there, but more noticeable, I think being a social worker has put a little edge into my humor. Hard to imagine, I know, but I think it might be true.

Since my Urban Tidepool blog is the intersection of my career in social work, my midlife culinary degree, and the work of writing my first book, I wanted to share some of the rays of light and insight brought to my life by this incredible career. I hope these will bring you a smile.

Tis the season where I’m writing evaluations for the student interns that work with me and I am reminded of some of the invaluable pieces of information that other interns have taken from their placements—the importance of not calling your supervisor “dude”, the fact that not everyone in social services is trying to get one over on you and they might even genuinely like you, what is the pea and the shell game, the definition of epic clusterfuck, when NOT to use the term genderfuck, how to stop drive by hugging, and of course the ever popular question, do penguins have knees?

Two social workers who like to cook. Me: “Nothing feels as good as dirt against your hands when you’re gardening.” Karen: Skeptical look. Me: “Okay. Think of it like cookie dough…cookie dough against your hands.” Karen: “Cookie dough isn’t dirty.” Me: “Dr. B, ya got me there.” She taught me everything I know about differential diagnosis.

Getting ready for a weekend trip. Deb: “What animals are you seeing this weekend? ” Me: “Winter Dolphin. And Kathy Kempke.” Silence from the hallway. Then Deb: “Now THAT is a Facebook post!”

Yesterday, I followed a pick up truck from a home repair company down Orchard Rd. It was printed on both sides and the tailgate “Christian Owned Since 1975”.
Today I’m considering having this printed on my doors:
“Atheist Driven Since 1981. I use this vehicle to get to my atheist job as a social worker where I work with people of all faiths and have keys to 5 (count em–FIVE) churches, then to go back to my atheist owned home, where I walk my atheist owned rescue dogs, chat with my neighbors who have a variety of faiths, and make sure to pay my atheist taxes every year.”
I’ll need bigger doors.

I always wanted a job where I could say, “Wheels up in 30!” I’m a social worker. I bungee-corded a Big Wheel to the roof of my car.

We call it social work because “The art of cleaning up after heartless jackals who don’t care whom they traumatize” doesn’t fit on a diploma.

As a career, social work is messy. It’s hectic. Anxiety-producing. Sometimes you don’t have time for lunch or even to run to the restroom. It’s painful. People you care about hurt. You might hurt. You will have days when you can barely breathe through sadness. You will also feel joy. And connection. And pride. And passion. Then you’ll realize you still have to pee and you’re hungry.
Welcome to social work!

Today’s observation, hanging out with another social work foodie. “Empaths are the tofu of the emotional world.”
Was there ever any question?

Did you hear the one about the atheist social worker who ran the non-prophet agency?

At my last job, whenever I couldn’t reach my supervisor, I would offer (threaten, really) to go across the street to Family Court and file a PINS on myself. That’s Person In Need of Supervision petition for you non social worky types. Oh…the possibilities…

Started to text Deb “be home asap”. It didn’t space and auto correct put in homicidal. There you are, words of encouragement from your friendly neighborhood social worker. Be homicidal. Well played, auto correct!

At dinner last night, from my favorite social work boss: “You’re such a goddamn social worker.” Taught me everything I know, she did!

During supervision with the Youth Outlook intern, discussing young people and behavior disorders– Me: “Okay, here’s my recommendation. If any of the other Youth Outlook staff EVER call out, “Damien, it’s all for you!’, and leap down the elevator shaft wearing a noose, you have my permission to hold that boy down, shave his head and find those three sixes.” Anne the intern, when she was done crying: “Thanks, Nance, I’m sure this advice will take me far in my career.” Maybe I should have mentioned that my clinical social work years are far behind me??? Nah….more fun this way!

At the Sprint store at lunch time: Clerk: “If you’ll tell me the name of your first pet, I can associate this purchase with your account.” Me (thinking quickly because the account is under Deb’s name)…and I give her the only name I can think of. Which ends up being wrong. I call Deb, while the clerk waits patiently for me. She suggests another name. Also wrong. Now I’m ready to scrap the whole thing and ask, “How the hell many pets HAVE you had?” And Deb gets all excited and gives me one more name…which works. The clerk just looks at me and says dryly, “I see you learned something new today. Ain’t love grand?” Your social work tip for today–family secrets can cause you a longer wait at the Sprint store.

One of my better observations of my skill set from today’s meeting with a board member: “This is ACCOUNTING. I’m a social worker! Don’t ask me about this! Give me a good conversation any day with someone with schizophrenia…or you…”

Repost from Maxine for more chuckles for my social work friends: “My inner child is a fit-throwin’, shin-kickin’, principal’s office-sittin’ nightmare.”

Setting up a Nancy Mullen page for work. How social work-y! I can finally friend myself!

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Imagine the mental gymnastics of the folks who have worked their entire lives and are now at risk of becoming homeless. A repost, 34 days into a shutdown pushing federal workers to the edge of catastrophe.

Urban Tidepool

Are you ready? It’s Tuesday. Let’s do some myth busting just for fun. In my Facebook feed this morning, just in the first couple of minutes that I was looking, I saw articles on poor people, and working people, and poor people who work but can’t afford basic needs, and homeless people. Oh yeah, and comments about health insurance and who should have what and the inevitable comments from people who are tired of supporting health insurance for other people. Don’t forget those.

If I’m completely honest, it wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up this morning. Then beyond finding it irritating, it actually made me angry.

Yes, by all means, let’s talk about poor people and poor people who work and people who are homeless and what they all deserve. Here’s my angle on this, for anyone reading who has not met me in person. I’m probably as middle…

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2018, A Year in Silliness

Posted: January 3, 2019 in Blog
Tags: , ,

A couple of years ago, I did a blog post that was just a collection of silly social media posts that I had put up in the previous year. People enjoyed it and I enjoyed doing it, so I decided we needed a repeat performance. I hope it brings you a few chuckles. It certainly did for me.

I notice on some of the dog groups I belong to that people often give their dog a voice using baby talk. After I noticed that, I realized that if I were to “voice” Mylo, she would sound like an indignant Dame Maggie Smith. And Chip would sound like Gomer Pyle.

I always feel thinner when I take the trash out.
Admit it. You do too.

Step one. Make a Roo. Ok. But what does this have to do with making a cheese sauce?

Roo

 

The 2018 goal (cuz it’s not a resolution): To try to find the humor in more things.
You have been warned.

I’m trying a new technique for bonding with the dogs. Every time they get up to go into the kitchen, I follow them. So far, it’s working very well.

The nice man at Home Depot just showed me how to change out electrical outlets and light switches. I can’t wait to blow my eyebrows off!

The highlight of today- I was visiting a friend’s house and I put hand lotion on my alligator paws while I was in the bathroom. Then I realized I was unable to turn the doorknob and was stuck in the bathroom. I knocked on the inside of the door and started calling, “Kellie? Jules? Brittney? Crystal? Can someone open the door? Let me out?” No one answered, so I called Kellie’s cell. Around then, my hosts and their friends started looking for me but I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t even answer the first time they called for me.
Yeah. And I’m going to change light switches and electrical outlets. As soon as I figure out how doorknobs work!

Best conversation this week–

Karol: “I bought a copy of the Stonewall documentary to show the kids at group but someone stole it when it was delivered. Can you believe someone would steal a movie right from the front of my house?”

Me: “Can you imagine the surprise of the person who stole it? They probably thought they were walking away with a porn flick with lesbians in giant hair and nails like manicured daggers waiting for whatever delivery guy with bad 70s jazz playing in the background, and they got a documentary about the queers throwing molotov cocktails in Greenwich Village!”

I woke up at 4 a.m. mumbling, “Thank you for being here. The sign-in table is just over there.” Do I even have to tell you that those lazy bones dogs did not get up and sign in?

While watching the winter Olympics–Yeah. Watch me do a triple-triple. In my house, that’s when I trip over all three of my feet and knock three things off the counter on the way to the kitchen.

How I see myself as a social work advocate. grizzly

How I suspect others see me as a social work advocate.

muppet bear

Children, gather round. It is now time for Uncle Nando’s annual tradition of buying and planting something in the berry family….blue or rasp…so I can forget where I put it and mow over the teeny sticks in June.

Things that make me go hmmmm at 3 am…If a reporter from only one newspaper shows up at an event, is he considered a member of the medium?

I don’t know if it was meant to, but all of this talk of bracket busting inspired me so I tore some curtains down.

Chip has a nice smile–kind of like a game show host. I think he might be the Chuck Barris of doggy daytime TV.

My aquatic prowess is impressive. I move like a manatee with a hangover.”

Lindsey Vonn tore her ACL and now she’s in her 6th Olympics competition. I tore my ACL and now stairs frighten me. Go figure.

Creeping Charlie would be more aptly named Running The Hell All Over the Place Charlie.

It’s Lesbian Day of Visibility 2018. If I get anymore visible, NASA will be able to view me from space.

While presenting at the PADS staff meeting today–
Carolyn: “And please don’t hesitate to interrupt us and ask us questions. Even just half questions that you’re still working on how to word. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself. What is said here, stays here.”
Me: “I’m going to come at this from a point of view I learned from my sister-in-law. There are no strangers, only friends I haven’t met yet. And since we’re all friends, I’m planning to go out of my way to embarrass myself.”

Went to see the new Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen movie. Afterward, folks were choosing which characters they related to. We had two Candice Bergens, one Jane Fonda, one Mary Steenburgen. Then someone asked me which character I would be.
“Unfortunately in THAT line up, I am Dr. Derrick–the man from The Princess Bride.”

Sometimes I like to tell Chip about the day he found me, lost and wandering around Tails Humane Society, and he took me to the desk and paid them all of the milkbones he had in his pockets to keep me and then I was his person. He likes that bedtime story.

Urban legend research:
June 26, 1963
It is rumored that JFK’s best cold war speech, given his pronunciation and his accent, was a declaration that he was, in fact, a jelly doughnut. And apparently proud of it.
This tickles me. Stories conflict about whether he really said it, but even the idea tickles me.

On the phone, trying to refill Chip’s insulin syringe prescription.
Very polite automated system: “Sorry. This phone number is not associated with that prescription number.”
Really? Has he been calling in the refills himself on a different line for three years?

Indiana Jones movies…the reason I was confused as a young queerling. It’s Pride month, y’all!

It’s possible that the agency you work for is just too gay when a board member mentions starting an event with a champagne toast and one of the staff says, “Champagne Toast! Yassssss! That’s my new drag name!”

“Tell me the story about the day when I was only half a dog high and you took me to that little visiting room and I climbed up on you and fell asleep and you knew you were my person???”35082691_10213910996362563_4734562726368509952_o (1)

Youth Outlook’s 20th anniversary is coming up quickly so I am already figuring out what to wear. It’s formal this year. So I have decided on a black table skirt, tube socks, green stilettos (to go with our theme) and, of course(so I don’t hurt myself), Yak Tracks.

I’ve often thought that Mylo is smarter than I am. In the meantime, Chip is out in the yard, eating dirt. We’re a well-rounded family.

Jurassic World…I don’t think I’ve ever been more distressed over an imaginary brontosaurus during a volcanic eruption that never happened on an island that does not exist.

Great cloud formations on the drive home! I saw a unicorn, the dude who claps the coconuts in Search for the Holy Grail, one of the M&M guys, and Timon and Pumba.

Youth Outlook volunteer: “Nance, I can’t do that meeting ’cause I have concert tickets.”
Me: “Oh, ok. Who’s playing?”
Youth Outlook volunteer: “Jimmy Eat World.”
Me: “That’ll be fun!”
Pause.
Youth Outlook volunteer: “Uhhh…you actually know who that is?”
Me: “Yep, I play their 45s on my old phonograph with the crank handle.”
Don’t mess with me, son. I invented being a smart ass.

A new definition for faceturbating. (Did you know there was an old definition?)
Anyway.
Faceturbating: [FAYS-ter-bayting]
noun; the practice of trolling people you do not know on social media (usually the friend of a friend) by posing what appears to be a valid question so that you can them how wrong they are when they answer and start an argument

Verb; the act of getting off on telling people you do not know how wrong they are with the intention of starting an argument

Variation— Faceturbator: noun; a person who engages in Faceturbating

Today it was mansplained to me that I’m a little bit crazy for thinking that Roe v Wade could be overturned and that Stormy Daniels might not go away easily, potentially putting her at risk of further arrest, harassment or even injury. After 32 years in the mental health field, thank god there was a man to tell me what I think on social issues.

Me: “I think I broke the lawnmower. It doesn’t self-propel anymore. It just me-propels.”
Brian: “Let me take a look.”
I am so in awe of the rare species Humanamus Fixemupalus!

I spent the night tearing up old socks to make bandages for the Second Civil War and then some smart ass handed me a bottle of Liquid Bandage.

I tried this outfit today but it was so hot, the grapes turned into raisins.carmen miranda

The portajohns on 88 have all blown over. Now THERE’s a job no one is going to want.

My friend Andrea’s dog, Finn, goes to the library and lets little kids read to him and might be an extra in a movie.
Chip dug a crater in the back yard and ate a bee.
I’m so proud.

There’s a box with a unicorn head poking out of it in my garage. Every time I park, I feel like I’m in a queer version of The Godfather.

I bought some cedar blocks to leave in my dresser drawer because I like them. Now I’m being followed by three homeless gerbils who think I smell familiar. If you see me today, try to avoid mentioning it.

Attention, Walmart shoppers. There is a dog wearing Buddy Holly sunglasses panhandling at the parking lot entrance. I repeat. Dog. Buddy Holly sunglasses. Panhandling. That is all.
Really…that was quite enough!

Watched an infomercial with the sound off. If I understood correctly, if I buy THAT product right now (!), I can look like Cindy Crawford at 53. Or a cantaloupe. I’m not sure. They kept showing me both. Since I didn’t look like Cindy Crawford in my 20s, I doubt I can look like her now. Therefore, Cindy Crawford is trying to sell me something to make me look like a cantaloupe.

Some of my friends are such good allies to the LGBT community, I forget sometimes that they aren’t LGBT themselves. They’re not queer. They’re close to everything queer but they don’t live here. They’re the suburbs of Queer.

Put my spex on and they broke in half. I now have two monocles with ear pieces. It’s a very distinguished look.

I’ll need a quart of pumpkin spice gasoline for the lawn mower. I get confused at this time of year…

Kurt: “Are you going to complete the outfit with a petite clutch?
Me: “The only petite clutch I understand is the one next to the brake.

The good news! I figured out how to commune with my spirit animal.
The bad news! He bites.

I haven’t gone shopping yet this week so I ran out of bread. Crouton sandwiches are about the cutest little things I ever did see.

I took the juicer out to tinker with a recipe. My observation for today–there is a reason we cannot just buy banana juice.

I ordered some of that Crepe Erase. Now I got a pile o’ nekkid bananas and Nutella on my plate. Damn infomercials.

I’m writing a musical about my life and I’m calling it Forklift Driver’s Gender Neutral Offspring.
I’ve already invited Sissy Spacek to direct.

I reprogrammed the Roomba for long-distance travel. I arrive in Naperville in about 3 days. See you there!

What is this alleged almond bark you speak of? I’ve never heard them make a sound.

I mixed up the Static Guard with a can of lemon Pledge. I’m still a little static-y but my polar fleece jacket is fabulously shiny and lemony fresh.

Being a child of the 70s prepared me for the world in unique ways. For example, I usually carry a books of matches, a bobby pin and a deck of cards in case someone unexpectedly wants to make a deal. I keep an eye out so I ALWAYS know where the beef is. I know who shot JR and I’m ready to talk. And my car is completely outfitted in the event that some stranger pulls up alongside me at an intersection and says, “Excuse me, Sir. Do you happen to have any grey poop on?” We can talk later about this tendency people have to call me Sir all the time.

I finally finished the make-over on the guest room. For those of us who journeyed through long coming out processes in the 70s and 80s, these rooms are also occasionally called the “dummy bedroom” where the “roommate” sleeps, with whom we are “just friends”. I’ve decided to keep that term even though I live alone, in an effort to convince me that I’m friends with myself. Closet humor. It’s been a long time!

Wishing you a year of much laughter and silliness~

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Formative Days

It’s been more than three years since my divorce, but I still find comfort in some traditions that my fabulous ex-wife introduced to me. In this case, I mean the Jewish tradition of the memorial candle, or yahrzeit candle, lit on the day of a loved one’s death to celebrate their life. I am also deeply appreciative of the idea of lighting the way for them to a happy afterlife.

October is a challenging month. Starting with the memorial for my favorite aunt, my Aunt Connie, at the beginning of the month, then moving on to the memorial for my sister-in-law, landing here on the memorial of the father’s death, and ending with the memorial of the death of the brother with whom I grew up at the start of November. It is, as I have observed in a prior post, one long yahrzeit candle burning.

Formative days stay with us long into adulthood in unusual bits and pieces, as we have heard recently from trauma specialists. This experience bears out for me less in the realm of significant hurts, because so many of the bruises (though not all) fade into the blur of days as recurring events, but more in the realm of significant losses. Formative losses endure for a lifetime.

Today is the day of a formative loss and, as is my practice, a yahrzeit candle burns in the kitchen. I hesitated to write this post, then wondered why, because I’ve already written it in much detail in Urban Tidepool. And what the hell…I’ve written several humorous posts over the summer. A serious one will provide some balance.

Share a walk with me through a formative day, just shortly past my 17th birthday. I’ll appreciate the company.

 

An excerpt from Urban Tidepool:

October 1982

I called him in sick that morning. It’s usually the other way around, the parent calling the kid in sick, but that would be really unlike us at this point. The call itself was uneventful.

“Pennsylvania Refrigeration, may I help you?”

“I’m calling Charlie Mullen in sick.”

That was that. He really wasn’t feeling well; no lie today. I knew that. He had mentioned not feeling well the night before. The fact he wasn’t doing shit to take care of himself wasn’t lost on me. A small “I told you so” floated on the edge of my awareness. Try giving up smoking like the doctor told you, I thought. Try not eating the stuff they told you not to eat. Maybe you’d feel better.

As I returned the handset to the cradle, the phone rang. I grabbed it again. My friend Kathy asked if I had been given the message that she had her parents’ car this morning and she was driving us to school. Could I be ready in ten minutes?

Of course I hadn’t gotten the message. I’d been off making a 10 p.m. dog food run. I ran from dining room to basement, searching the dryer for a pair of my uniform socks, and then back upstairs to the bathroom. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to pause at his bedroom door, though, and ask, “Did Kathy leave me a message that she was picking me up for school?”

He grunted, half awake. “Oh, yeah. Last night.”

“Awww…Dad, you are such an asshole!”

He didn’t answer.

I showered, spooned out some of the dog food rallied on the emergency Alpo run, kissed the dog and met Kathy on the front steps. We lived in a neighborhood of one-car families. It was a big deal to get the family car for school, avoiding the hassle of a Septa bus, or—God forbid—the Grays Ferry school bus. I was not going to miss this. We were seniors! With a car! As I picked up my work clothes, I contemplated calling out a good bye. He was probably asleep again. Besides, Michael might wake up and bitch about being disturbed—or slap the shit out of me. I didn’t need that. Never mind. I locked the door behind me.

Kathy greeted me with her usual morning announcement. “School blows.”

I could only agree. Six weeks into senior year, we were already counting days mostly unremarkable in their sameness; same uniform, same nuns, same resented expectation that we not think for ourselves. The good part of the day started when my work shift at McDonald’s did.

October 18th was a beautiful day in South Philadelphia, still warm, with shortened sunshine slanting earlier, heralding fall. By October we had golden sun, not the white sun of midsummer that made the asphalt melt and heat shimmer up off the pavement, playing tricks with your eyes. The walk from the bus stop to McDonald’s was pleasant, even enjoyable, and my leftover irritation with the father softened. I hadn’t missed my ride, hadn’t been late to school, all was well.

I changed into my uniform and clocked in without a minute to spare. I loved closing shift. I especially loved coming in directly from school, skipping that whole going home part. This was my second year at this job, my part-time, as-close-to-forty-hours-a-week-as-I-could-manage job. I had been promoted to manager last spring. Maybe it was being able to exchange the nasty polyester crew uniform for the cotton button-downs that the managers wore. Maybe it was not having to wear the crew hat that never looked right no matter where I put it on my skull, earning me the nickname “Helmet Head” from the regional manager. Maybe it was just that the regional manager had a nickname for me. Whatever it was, this was my favorite place.

A few minutes before 8 p.m., the phone by the manager’s desk rang and one of the guys on grill called me to pick it up. I expected the father and was surprised to hear Marie’s voice.

“Have you talked to your father today?”

“No, I came right into work from school. Why?”

“I’ve been calling the house and it rings and rings but nobody answers.”

“Okay. Let me call and see if he answers. I’ll call you back.”

The phone in our house rang endlessly, surely long enough that even with his hearing loss, he would have heard it. He would have rolled over or coughed or something, and the ringing two rooms away would have pulled him the rest of the way into consciousness.  My stomach tightened.

Turning to the other manager on duty, I said, “I gotta go. Something’s up.”

A friend from my neighborhood had just clocked out at the end of her shift, and she offered me a ride. We didn’t think to turn off the radio as we drove. As it had been for weeks, the theme song from An Officer and a Gentleman played.

My house was dark. Not a single light shone, despite it being full dark outside now. The front door was locked. Chills ran down my back and arms. Above me, the dog jumped down to come greet me. From the direction of the thud, she was in the father’s room. I relaxed a little. Navigating a few steps around the couch arm, I flicked on a lamp and went up to see how he was feeling. The door was closed halfway. I pushed gently, reaching for the wall light switch.

“Dad?” I stepped into the room. “Dad?” I stopped beside the bed, put one hand on his shoulder and shook once. “Dad?”

The information flooded in all at one time.

Sight.

Sound.

Touch.

Overload.

He lay on his back, with his feet crossed at the ankle and his hands folded together on his stomach. His fingers were waxy white. Bloodless. I was the only one breathing in the room. His shoulder under my hand was cold. When I shook him, his head rocked slightly to one side but the muscle did not recoil. I looked down into his face: the slack jaw, the pallor, and a detail that I didn’t speak about until more than fifteen years later. Oh God. His tongue was black.

I backed away, shut the light off, closed the door. I learned later that one of the neighbors heard me scream, although I was never aware that I did. This was it. I had known for months it would happen exactly this way. Years ago last night, I went on a dog food run so I’d have something to feed her this morning. Upon arriving home I sat in the car, idling at the curb, staring at our front windows and thinking, It won’t be much longer. He’s so sick. I knew. I always knew it would be me that found him. And years ago last night, I did the familiar, unwanted practice run in my head that I had been doing for months. Now it kicked in automatically.

I dialed 911. “I need an ambulance.”

“What is your emergency?”

“My father has had a heart attack.”

A few more questions followed that blurred together. I didn’t feel any emotion, only hands shaking so badly it was hard to dial the phone. I called my brother, The Major, and my sister-in-law answered. I called my sister’s house, where my brother-in-law answered. Both siblings were out. I left the same message. Send them—I think our father is dead. Still disconnected, I called the father’s girlfriend. Jesus, had it only been half an hour ago I’d spoken to her? How could that be possible?

“The paramedics are on their way, but I think he’s dead.”

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” She was crying. Why wasn’t I? “We’ll come. I’ll find a ride.”

Marie was half an hour away, even if she had a ride and walked out the door right now, but I agreed she should come. I wanted her here. After seven years of dating the father, she was a part of this. I refused to call my brother Michael. Him, I didn’t want here.

“Okay. Come.”

Hanging up, I knew I couldn’t stay there alone. As I had practiced in my imagination, I made one more call to my aunt’s house. “My father has had a heart attack. I think he’s dead. Can someone come and stay with me while I wait for the paramedics?”

I don’t remember who answered the phone, but the first person in the door was my cousin Doreen. She was eight months pregnant. Oh God. She’s gonna have that baby right here!

The paramedics arrived next, and I took them up to the father’s room. I hovered in the doorway to see what they would do, but they asked me to wait downstairs. My Uncle Dick, definitely no fan of the father, and Joe, my cousin Maureen’s husband, came in on their heels and Uncle Dick went upstairs with the paramedics. Why him but not me? They announced they would take him to the hospital.

“He’s not dead?”

“You should get ready to go to the hospital.”

My cousin David came in, out of breath. He took one of my arms and Doreen took the other. David said softly, “Let’s walk up the block to Maureen’s house.” We needed to figure out how I was getting to the hospital, who would be taking me and staying there, since The Major and my sister were both at least an hour away.

A few houses away, Mr. Forsythe, summoned to his front porch by the flashing ambulance lights called to us, “Are you okay, Nance?”

David answered. “She’ll be okay. We have to go to the hospital with Uncle Charlie.”

My cousin Maureen greeted me with a hug and stood with me as I splashed cold water on my face. I didn’t know where she and her husband Joe had been when my call came in, but she obviously already knew what was happening down the street. “Here, take this. You need a’ be calm if you’re goin’ to the hospital.” She pressed a glass of water into my other hand and prodded me to sit down at the kitchen table.

I was just placing the water glass on the table when the phone rang. It was Joe. Maureen relayed his words. “He’s been pronounced dead. The paramedics had to wait for the doctor. No one’s going to the hospital.”

David, sitting on one side of me, held my right hand. Doreen gripped my left. I didn’t hear anything beyond that. No no no no no no no no. I couldn’t tell if I was saying it out loud. I wasn’t making any sense. Someone said they were sorry. No no no no no no no. David and Doreen held my hands, squeezing them, kissing them. Maureen stood behind me, her hands on my shoulders and the back of my head. No no no no no no no no.

Of course he was dead. He was cold. I had known. They hadn’t wanted his child there when they took his body away. His fingers were bloodless. How could he not be dead? I had known. But he had looked asleep. He had looked peaceful in his boxers and his strappy t-shirt with his hands folded on his belly and his feet crossed, and it didn’t matter what I had known because I wanted to believe we were going to the hospital. It should hurt, shouldn’t it? Dying should hurt. He looked asleep. His fingers… bloodless. I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could, but I could still see them. I had known. No no no no no no. They were never going to take him to the hospital. It’s possible I howled. Don’t all wounded animals?

It was close to 10 p.m. when my sister arrived. I sat with a comforter wrapped around me and a cup of hot tea in front of me, so cold my whole body shook. Just two hours ago, I had been comfortable wearing a hooded sweatshirt, unzipped, with the sleeves pushed up. This was cold like the middle of February, and the comforter and tea kept my shivers at bay with only marginal success.

I tuned into some of the back and forth about where I might sleep that night. Did I really want to go sleep in the same house where my father had just died? Would I be okay? I didn’t belong at Maureen and Joe’s. I needed to go home.

Pat walked with me, retracing the steps that Doreen, David and I had taken just a short time ago, hoping I was wrong, knowing I was right. I thought I was ready. I hadn’t anticipated the surreal feeling, walking into the living room, seeing the father’s shirt draped over the back of a chair and his shoes on the steps where he had left them.

Overload.

Disconnect.

The room spun. I staggered two steps and Pat caught me. The lump in my throat exploded and an animal-like sound swelled out. Pat sat down on the couch, pulling me with her. My head rested against her shoulder, the father’s shirt in my line of vision. The noise kept going, that animal sound. It took several moments to become aware that I was making it. No doubt about it this time. I was howling.

I was afraid I wouldn’t sleep, but the next disconnect came and I welcomed it. I prayed for it. Please take this away. Please make this stop. Several times during the night, I started to surface toward consciousness. Each time I became aware of an overpowering pain in my chest, quickly followed by no no no no no no no, words I saw in neon print on the back of my eyelids. My vocabulary was gutted. It was the only word I could manage.

*********

Formative days, like today, bring back floods of memories and sometimes the tiny candle flame struggles against the weight of darkness that lacks words.  In four years, I will be as old as he was on the night of his death. He has been gone now more than twice as long as I knew him.  On formative days, I remember that before I referred to him as “the father”, I called him Chuckleberry and when I was very young, he would clap his hands together backwards and bark like a seal to make me laugh. As a single dad after the mother crossed over, he taught me it was okay to eat cold Spaghettios from the can to avoid making extra dishes. He wore brown shirts with black pants and when I’d comment on him being no slave to fashion, he gave me an answer straight out of the Shit My Father Says manual:  “What?! It’s clean!”

Sometimes formative days have gifts. It’s just a little extra work to find them.

dad2

dad1

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A post from the archives for National Coming Out Day! Celebrate YOU today!

Urban Tidepool

National Coming Out Day is always a great day for reflection, given that I run an agency for LGBT kids for my job. This week found me wandering memory lane, taking a moment for my own coming out, which (if you’ve caught my previous comments) is always a big question for people who start to read Urban Tidepool and expect it to be a coming out story.

I was 25 when I came out, long past the ending point that is written for the current draft of Urban Tidepool. I had come out to a few very close friends but coming out to my family felt different, bigger, more ominous. Not that it should have, as I was already an adult, living in another state from my remaining family members, but I can still recall the sense of dread as I contemplated what words I might use to make…

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Yes! Let’s talk about this! Fat shaming happens. A lot. By the medical profession. It doesn’t help. It creates an immediate disconnect between patient and provider.
A couple of years ago, I ruptured my ACL while biking. I tore up everything inside my knee. I was referred to a specialty doc for the reconstruction. During my first appt, he looked at me and asked, “What do you do to keep active?”
I said, “I bike and I’ve been working on a couch to 5K program.” I was so proud of that couch to 5k thing. I was, at the time, more active than I had been in years and feeling pretty good about it, the whole ACL rupture notwithstanding.
Dr Banana Fingers waved his hand dismissively in front of my torso and said, “Come on. You’re not a runner. You’re a softball player.”
My jaw dropped. No. I’m not a softball player. I’m not a great runner but it involved moving my sneakers in front of each other in rapid succession–what most folks would refer to as running. Also, to note, when I injured my knee, I was not playing softball. I was riding a bicycle, which I like to do. A lot. For long distances.
I’ve joked about this in other blogs but it is a serious and ongoing issue. I look like everyone else in my family. We are short, sturdy, often stocky, and middle age is not kind to us. No one in my entire family could ever qualify as thin, except for perhaps the mother, in her last stages of cancer when her body was wasting. I do not require shaming to remind me that I look like my family.  What I expect of my doctors is to be treated respectfully and to work with me to live in the healthiest, and most comfortable manner that I can, in this body I came into this time around. This body bikes. And gardens. And likes yoga. And likes walking the dogs. And it STILL looks like everyone else in my family. Name calling doesn’t cut it, Doc.
But I digress. On a follow up appointment, post-repair, the nurse who brought me to the assigned room gave me the wrong shorts to put on for the exam. Dr Banana Fingers arrived, looked at me still wearing my jeans, then opened the door and yelled–and I do mean he YELLED–down the hallway, “HEY, CAN YOU BRING BIGGER SHORTS?? SHE NEEDS BIGGER SHORTS!”
I had two follow ups left after that appointment. I never went back. I will drive 45 minutes to the ortho clinic in the next town over before I will step a pudgy foot back in that clinic.
We don’t talk openly about this topic–either the need for the empathy based discussion or the disconnect.  When my primary doc asked about how things were going with the specialist, we were in the middle of addressing something else, I knew her time was limited and I wasn’t going to waste my appointment time talking about the poor experience with Dr Banana Fingers.  I think if she had more than the requisite 15 minutes…which is, truthfully, always more like 7 or 8 minutes….we might have some conversations about other important issues.
It is, of course, not just the medical profession going on the attack over this topic. About three weeks ago, a strange man in a Starbucks parking lot shouted at me that I was too fat to fuck. Again, the complete denigration of some stranger’s body is the go-to verbal abuse. Yup, yup, I got it. Your entire view of me is this single aspect.
Fat is a big queer issue. I’m going to save that tangent for its own blog.
In the meantime, I’m sorry your view is so limited. That’s like going to the theater for a night out and sitting behind the pillar that holds up the balcony. There are significant pieces of that show (and of people) that you won’t get to see.  I am a pudgy carbon based wonder and I’m sorry that all you can see is the pillar. Have you considered moving to a different seat?
fat-shaming-woman

Creating Community

Posted: September 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

From the archives, in honor of those we lost and in honor of those who lost.

Urban Tidepool

The goal of my work at Youth Outlook is to create safe space for LGBT youth. Presently, we do that in a number of ways, primarily through running drop-in centers in various communities, and also through our community education and youth leadership development work. But in 2001, our community education and youth leadership were just getting started and our focus went into the drop-in centers. Our Tuesday night in Naperville has been our biggest and busiest group since 2000. Again for comparison, in 2001 Gay Straight Alliances were few and far between and the Naperville group provided a “home base” for the thirty-plus kids who came in every week, most seeking refuge from still-hostile high schools. Coming to group in our borrowed church space meant family. It meant comfort. It meant, for the first time for many of them, safety.

By the time the chilling silence filled the skies over…

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