Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you ..."

September 2007. Lucky to be alive.
The title is a Sam Elliot quote from one of my favorite movies, The Big Lebowski. A clip from YouTube is posted below. It pretty well sums up my story in this blog post. Sometimes, when you least expect it, death comes up and narrowly misses biting you on the ass. That happened to me nine years ago this weekend...

In September 2007 my life was pretty good. I was forty-three years old, I owned a house in Eagle Mountain, UT (not the greatest place in the universe to live, but at least the mortgage company and I had a roof over my head), I had three amazing daughters, a minivan and an ancient SUV, and I had a job I liked that was a five minute walk from home.

Despite all that, things weren’t quite right. The previous summer I had acquired my first strep infection in over thirty years. It put me flat on my back for nearly a week and I never felt like I completely recovered. I was tired and weak most of the time, and any sort of physical exertion gave me shortness of breath and dizziness. During my first walk to work of the new school year I had to stop every few minutes, lean over with my head between my legs, and try to catch my breath. Clearly something was amiss.

On Saturday, September 8, my family and I were visiting my in-laws at their home in a hilly area on the upper east side of Provo, UT. Because I was bored and because my optimism overcame my common sense, I decided to go for an afternoon walk. I started out on a route that I had walked a thousand times before. It was a strenuous route, but not overly so; in previous years, when my kids were younger, I usually carried one of them over my shoulder or under an arm while I hiked the area. 

However, on that warm September afternoon I thought my walk was going to kill me. I had barely gone half my usual route before I had to turn around and go back to my in-laws’ house, because I literally couldn’t catch my breath. My face was pale and I had broken out into a cold sweat before I even walked through the front door. I flopped into a chair and basically scared everyone in the room to death. My in-laws insisted I take an aspirin in case I was having a heart attack. I asserted that I wasn’t, but I couldn't move from the chair for the rest of the afternoon.

The next day was Sunday and I felt awful. I spent all morning and most of the afternoon prostrate on a couch in my man cave, too exhausted to move. I don’t remember much about the day other than my kids were in and out checking on me, and I had no energy for even the most basic life functions, such as eating or bathing. 

Finally my ex-wife — to her credit — told me she was taking me to the emergency room. She called a neighbor who was a nurse and he told us that the hospital in Provo had the best cardiac care unit. The Provo Hospital was thirty miles away, so my ex arranged for her parents to meet us at the hospital and pick up the kids.

As soon as I described my symptoms the admitting nurse moved me to the head of the line for treatment, in front of other people with obvious bloody bodily injuries. The admitting physician was — coincidentally — an old high school acquaintance, and when I reported what I was feeling, he immediately admitted me to the hospital for testing. I remember being wheeled to my hospital room in a wheelchair and thinking that I could have walked to the room myself, although in reality there was probably no way I was capable of actually doing it. The delusions of a very sick man, I guess. The rest of the day is kind of a blur. I remember a visit from my ward elders’ quorum president — the only LDS Church leader to actually care, which is a story for another time — and not much else.

The next day, Monday, September 10, was hell. I remember lab techs hooking me up to a bunch of monitors and trying to jog on a treadmill. I couldn’t do it, which devastated me so completely that I broke down crying. I had always prided myself on being in reasonably good physical condition, so my inability to do something as simple as jogging on a treadmill scared me badly. The lab tech injected me with a drug that caused my body to react as if I had been able to complete the stress test on the treadmill. That medication made feel terrible — severe muscle cramps, shortness of breath, and nausea — and it was about that time my dad called. I told him what was going on and I think I scared him badly.

I honestly don’t remember much that happened after that. They wheeled me to an operating room where they injected dye into my cardiovascular system. A cardiologist found a blockage in one of the main arteries of my heart. The blockage was nearly one hundred percent (I found out later that a strep infection can cause plaque that already exists to expand rapidly.) The doc ran a catheter through an artery in my groin and opened the blockage, and then inserted a stent. I woke up the next morning to a few stitches in my groin, news stories about the sixth anniversary of 9/11, and a brand new, expensive piece of metal in my heart. A cardiac therapist told me to take it easy for a few weeks, but I actually felt better than I had in months. 

So that was my brush with death. Apparently I was a few days away from a major cardiac event due to the blockage in my heart. There should be all sorts of life lessons I could impart now, such as the temporary nature of life and how easily it can slip away, the inevitability of death (which I rediscovered less than a year and half later when my dad unexpectedly died in his sleep), and how easily and quickly things can potentially change for the worse. All of that is true, but the biggest lesson I learned is that I am sometimes one lucky sumbich. 

My belief system has changed a lot since September 2007, but I still think that there may be some primordial universal force that occasionally smiles on us and blesses us with good fortune. I don’t know why that happens; I look at places like Syria and the people fleeing the carnage there and wonder why them and not me. I’ve had a lot of really lousy things happen in my life since then, but I am still amazed that I lucked out so completely that September day, when I could have keeled over and left my kids without a father. I like to think they still need me; maybe they're why I'm still around.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m still here. Despite it’s challenges, my life is good. I’m living more authentically (another phrase I hate, but I don’t know how else to say it) and I’m finding out what it’s like to actually be loved for who I am and appreciated for the talents I have to offer. 

It’s a good feeling.

Monday, September 5, 2016

My Dirty Life And Times

Huffakers' Shithole. Stay away. Stay very far away.

Musical accompaniment to this post ...

After my divorce in 2011, I used to cope with the pain of it all by trying to convince myself (and others) that I was okay and that my life was normal. As I look back at my old blog, many of my post-divorce posts seem hollow and forced. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t okay, despite my protestations to the contrary. I was emotionally traumatized after spending twelve years in a mostly awful marriage, and I was struggling financially because of some stuff that my ex-wife and her father did to me just out of spite. 

I also had really bad legal counsel and I signed off on some things in my divorce that a better attorney would have caught and wouldn’t have let me do. Not making excuses for myself, but given my mental state at the time, I wish my attorney had insisted that I get joint physical custody of my kids or — at the very least — demanded that there was a provision in the divorce decree limiting the distance that one spouse could move away from the other. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened and I’ve spent the last five years watching my daughters suffer because of my own ignorance and an incompetent attorney.

Another way I coped with the bad stuff that was happening to me was to pretend that none of it happened (even while it was happening). Probably not the healthiest coping mechanism, and when I reread stuff I wrote or look at pictures I took and recognize that’s what I was doing, it makes me feel sick. I especially feel nauseous when I remember (or am reminded) of the time I spent in Midway, from January 2013 through August 2014. Such a lousy era of my life. 

During that time I lived in a truly vile apartment in Midway. It was all I could afford. Some people shouldn’t legally be allowed to lease property to others, and the Huffaker family are prime examples of those people. If they lived in a big city, they’d be called slumlords, but because they live in a small town, they get away with it. The Huffakers were greedy and had no sense of responsibility for the condition of their apartments. There was mold and water damage in my place. I lost clothing due to mildew from water leakage from the bathroom into the bedroom closet where the clothing was stored. The backdoor also wouldn’t lock and the neighbors helped themselves to some of my kitchen stuff one day when I wasn’t home. If there is a God, Wayne Huffaker will be condemned to spend the rest of eternity in one of his duplexes.

I went through several jobs after my divorce. My ex-wife sabotaged the job I had when we divorced, and for a while I struggled to pull out of the tailspin she sent me into. It seemed that each principal for whom I worked after my divorce was crazier than the last. I finally quit teaching elementary school for a year and took a job working at the local university. It didn’t pay much but it saved my sanity. After a year I regained my footing and my teaching career. I even spent a year as a principal, which reminded me of why I quit administration in the first place.

Anyway, fast forward five years and here I am, still standing and a little worse for the wear. There are a couple of reasons for all of this whining and complaining. First, writing is cathartic for me. It’s like draining the poison out of a snakebite when I finally face the truth and can write about it. I really want to get over the bitterness and anger I feel and I hope putting it out into the universe (God, that’s a stupid term, but it’s all I can think of right now) will help. Second, I learned some lessons that I want to share:

  • Things can get lousy fast. Never take the good times for granted.
  • Sometimes we don’t see our personal prison until we’re out of it. Comfort zones aren’t always helpful, especially when they keep us from progressing. For me, living in my hometown was a trap and limited me in many different ways, and I couldn’t see it until I was out.
  • Find someone you can love whole-heartedly, passionately, and without fear of rejection. Love someone who loves you for who you are now, but makes you want to be a better person. Love and be loved unconditionally. If you already have that someone, hang onto them for dear life.
  • Love what you do. If you don’t love everything about your life now, find at least one thing you can love. Life is too short to put up with drudgery for long. I love teaching, but I don’t love the politics that go along with it. I’m lucky to be in a place now where I can do what I love.
  • Fear sucks. Don’t be afraid of your feelings. Accept them, and if they’re negative, channel those feelings in productive ways. Recognize depression and deal with it. Don’t be afraid of trying new things. Don’t be afraid of trying old things in a new way. I once reached a point where getting out of bed in the morning became a challenge. That was no way to live, so I did something about it. Mostly, I found reasons to get out of bed — my job, my kids, and the people I loved most.
  • Don’t trust in religion. It’s your life. Live it your way, but don’t be an asshole. Be true to yourself, and accept, respect, and trust yourself. Don’t worry about what most others think or say about you; you can’t do anything about it anyway. Do care what your loved ones think. I spent a lot of my life thinking there were people who were more insightful or inspired about myself than me. I finally realized that nobody knows me better than myself. Depending on others because they claim to have a closer relationship with God than you is an invitation to disaster.
  • Accept others for who they are, but don’t be anyone’s doormat. Recognize others have bad days, but assume good will anyway. Be patient, but don’t accept being treated less than how you deserve, whether it’s by friends, family, employers, church leaders, or anyone else. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to put up with being treated poorly just because I had an investment in a relationship with someone.
  • There are crazy and/or mean people out there who enjoy hurting others. Learn to deal with them. Even better, avoid those people altogether if you can. Sometimes bad people put on a good front before you realize what they are all about. Some of the worst people I’ve dealt with in my life have had advanced degrees and high church callings.
  • Be grateful. You’re blessed every day in large and small ways. Show gratitude for everything. Look for ways to help others.
  • Knowledge matters. Education matters. Experience matters. Ignorance is not bliss.
  • Intentions don’t matter. Actions do.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Back to the Hairy Liberal Curmudgeon

Eight years ago I started a blog. I did it because I was very opinionated — I was a liberal living in a conservative small town in the heart of a conservative county in a conservative, reactionary state — and I didn’t feel like I had an outlet to express my opinions. I also worked in a conservative school district that had many heavy handed, unnecessary policies that were rooted in the predominant, reactionary religious culture. In other words, I was stuck in Crazy Mormon Town without a voice, but I needed one for my own emotional well being. I love to write, so blogging seemed like a natural solution to my problem.

My ex-wife suggested I name the blog “Hairy Liberal Curmudgeon.” I didn’t realize at the time that the word “hairy” would attract Google attention that I didn't necessarily want, but it did eventually amuse me that people searching for photos of hirsute guys or women would inadvertently land on my daddy blog instead, and be subjected to my rantings. I blogged about a lot of different things — politics, religion, education, my family, and the strange community where I lived at the time. My blog was way more popular than I ever expected it would be, especially after I used my Facebook page to publicize each new blog post.

I loved to blog. As I look back at my old posts, I’m embarrassed by some of my more boneheaded blogging, but I also like the posts that still ring true. Through my blog I dealt with some difficult events in my life; death, divorce, loneliness, and unemployment were all topics that I tackled at various times. Some of my blog posts caused me some personal problems and in hindsight, I — maybe — should have been a little more discreet. I don’t regret blogging though, and I sometimes wish I still blogged more frequently. The ideas are still there; the energy and ambition aren’t.

All of that navel gazing is my way of saying that I am reviving my original “Hairy Liberal Curmudgeon” blog, and I’m using Blogger as the vehicle for publishing it. Wordpress is probably a better format, but I kind of like the symmetry of going back to Blogger. If nothing else, it has a retro, old-school look that screams 2008.

Anyway, I’m hoping to publish something that’s actually meaningful here soon. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Saving my old blog title from falling into other hands. Yee-haw.