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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Walking Away From Death

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All my adult life I've engaged in a rather vigorous workout involving weights and cardio exercises, and was even something of a bodybuilder through my 50s.  Gay men, unlike straight men, have to keep in shape for reasons I've explained elsewhere (see "Men, Women, and Pornography" in Related Posts, below).  But early in 2011, due to various medical problems also explained elsewhere (and from which I've made a complete recovery), I dropped over 40 pounds and came very close to dying twice. 

The worst of it was the spring of 2011, when I was losing the weight rapidly, playing in "Hamlet" (as the evil King Claudius—I missed three performances when my kidneys failed), lying to myself that I was fine, but ignoring the obvious fact that I was not.
Gertrude (Britt Kline) and Claudius worry about Hamlet (Ben Gorman)

The problem was that I had no appetite (due to the medication I was taking), and everything I put in my mouth tasted like a lump of paste.  It didn't matter whether it was fresh hot bread, or chocolate, or a juicy steak: it tasted like paste, and it was repulsive.  One evening, much worried about the weight loss, I forced myself to eat all of a chicken pot pie ("It's important, it's good for you, and, damn it, you will eat it!").  It took an hour, with much gagging to keep down each bite as I swallowed it.

Eventually I more or less quit eating.

By early summer when I glanced in the mirror in the morning, I saw something that looked like an Auschwitz survivor looking back at me.  My clothes hung on me, and I was a walking skeleton.  There are no photos of me at this weight, and, if there were I certainly wouldn't post them. 

Bizarre things start happening when your body shuts down: my cuticles disappeared from my fingernails and the nails themselves broke easily (I couldn't open the pop-tops on beverages), my hair began falling out and it grew slower than usual, I couldn't open bottles and jars because I lacked the strength to twist the caps off.  If a set of steps had no railing or banister, I couldn't go up or down because my balance was so bad.  Then I lost feeling in both my feet, and had trouble telling when I was pushing hard enough on the gas pedal while driving or finding the energy to take my foot off of the pedal when I didn't want to accelerate.  It occurred to me that I might have to quit driving, and—horrible to think about—how in the world would I get around then?
I fell a lot, which is dangerous for people of any age and particularly those whose bones are old.  I simply lacked the strength or will to coordinate my usual movements.  One May day in Staples I was weak and tired and dragging my right foot when it caught at the toe.  I went down like a statue toppling over, face first, and struck the ground with a loud smack.  There was a moment of silence all around as people (both employees and customers) were stunned by how hard I'd hit the linoleum floor.  People rushed over, babbling ("Are you hurt?" "Was there something you slipped on?" etc.), and, much embarrassed, all I could do was mumble "Clumsy, tripped."  But I was too weak and unbalanced to get up on my own, and had to ask for help, at which point one of the larger male employees grabbed me under my shoulders from the back and lifted me gently to my feet as if I were a rag doll.  I thanked him, assured them all that I was fine, and then hobbled to the cash register with my purchase.  That night I noticed my knees were scabbed and my right cheek was bruised bright red.


A week later I had a bad moment in Microcenter when, right in the middle of their large showroom, I realized there was nothing substantial enough to lean against and I hadn't the strength to keep standing upright.  I stumbled, almost falling, to a shelf that teetered but held me for a moment, and then made my way from trembling shelf to trembling shelf to the front of the store.  I had something I wanted to purchase in my hand, but didn't have the strength to wait in line without collapsing.  I grabbed the woman in line in front of me by the shoulder and said to her, "I'm about to fall—get help!"  Alarmed, she propped me up and called out to others, and I was lowered into an office chair on wheels.  Microcenter rang up my purchase, and a kindly middle-aged man helped me to my car, allowing me lean on his shoulder.  I can't tell you how humiliating this all was.

A week later I fell going into a grocery store and landed half on a bench and half on a ten year old boy who was sitting there tying his shoe.  I was scared that I'd hurt him, but the kid was terrific: immediately becoming worried about me ("Are you all right?  Should I call for help?").  Mortified, I apologized for being so clumsy.  A week later I thought I could walk fifty feet to the seafood display in the same store, but was wrong and couldn't make it; I had to lean on the produce display, half sitting, half leaning, panting loudly.  There was no chance I could garner enough strength to walk further without support.  What to do?  I picked out the next shopper coming by with a grocery cart and asked her if she'd be willing to fetch an empty cart for me from the front of the store.  Much the Good Samaritan, she promptly abandoned her own half-filled cart to go grab one for me, for which I thanked her warmly, and then used the cart for balance enough to return to my car.  Again, this was hugely embarrassing.  Thereafter I swallowed my pride and did all my grocery shopping in an electric shopping cart, which took some getting used to ("Watch out!  I'm dangerous!" I'd caution other shoppers as I steered around them, only half kidding). 

One evening at my condo when I had friends coming over for the some fun, I dropped a glass in the kitchen and it shattered on the floor.  This created a nightmare.  Why?  Because there was nothing in the kitchen that was low enough that I could lean on to get down to the floor, and, even if I collapsed onto the floor, nothing that would afford me the leverage necessary to rise to my feet in my very weakened condition.  Even worse, there were shards of glass all over the kitchen floor and I have two cats, who immediately wanted to see what was going on.  That meant I couldn't leave the kitchen (and go get a broom and dustpan, itself quite a task involving carrying objects up steps).    


Awkwardly I more of less crashed down and then used various items from drawers to sweep shards of glass into a nearby wastebasket.  Having gotten most of it up, I now had to rise to my feet—but how?  There was nothing only two feet high in the kitchen that I could use as leverage to pull myself up.  So I crawled on hands and knees into the living room and used my recliner to rise slowly and precariously to my feet.  Then I stood there panting for a few moments until enough strength returned so I could turn and collapse back onto the chair.  The whole thing took forever, and just as I settled in the chair, the doorbell rang as my guests arrived.

Then, in early July, I nearly died from system failure, and, as I've reported before (see "Mama Cat Saves My Life") it was only the intervention of my cat that kept me alive (which sounds improbable, but is nonetheless true).  As that post also relates I subsequently started eating again, gained back the lost weight, and by the middle of August was back to doing a rigorous workout and putting on muscle again.  My workout now includes 30 pushups, 30 sit-ups, 30 minutes on the exercycle, 45 minutes on the weight machine, and stretching exercises which I do (in theory) every other day.  For a 68 year old man, that's not bad.
Old Doug Works Out

The point of all this is how much we take for granted in the casual things we do when we're healthy.  Last spring if I dropped something on the floor that was a major problem.  I was too unbalanced and weak to lean over, so I'd have to choose between slowly lowering myself to the floor, next putting the dropped item up on a higher spot, and finally crawling to a place where I could leverage myself back up.  In 2012 if I drop something on the floor I simply lean over and pick it up.  What's the big deal?  I'm currently teaching a six-hour one semester course, which has me pacing up and down the aisles near the students for 75 minutes four days a week, and I don't have any physical problems with doing this other than the occasional protest from my traitorous  knees (which are mysteriously older than the rest of me).

Recently, at the end of one of my workouts, just as I finished doing pushups (my last exercise), I pondered whether I could get off the floor by myself without leaning on anything.  Hmm.  It was a startling question given that I hadn't done so in almost a year.  It turned out to be no trouble.  I balanced myself on my legs and then pushed off the floor from the position of a stretching cat. 

Oh, but this was a triumph, and more than a minor one!  On some basic level it meant that Douglas Whaley was whole again and his life would go on.  A year ago that seemed most unlikely.

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Related Posts:
"Men, Women, and Pornography," December 10, 2010
"Another Opening, Another Show: Doug is in 'Hamlet'," April 29, 2011
"Report on Old Doug: Health, Theater, eBook, and More," June 28, 2011
"Mama Cat Saves My Life," October 23, 2011
"On Being Lucky: The Second Anniversary of My Heart Transplant," November 23, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team

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The Columbus Dispatch has recently reported that Ohio State's new football coach, Urban Meyer

                will offer optional Bible studies and chapel services for the players, Meyer said. His faith is an important part of all parts of his life, including his coaching career.  Meyer said the optional services he’ll offer players at Ohio State will be nondenominational Christian. But he said he would tell the young men that if they want to worship a different way, he’ll “certainly cater to that as well.”

Hmm.  The whole concept of a state university official conducting religious classes for his students in a way that is certain to affect their performance as university athletes bothers me a great deal.  Skipping over the arguable violation of the separation of church and state, there are other problems beside the purely constitutional one.  I'm a Professor of Law at The Ohio State University.  If I started holding classes in my home for my Commercial Law students on "Atheism and Its Philosophy," and the students knew it would affect how I treated them in class (even if I said otherwise), I'm certain that frowning University officials would quickly be knocking on my office door.  Apparently Urban Meyer is not held to the same standard.

Urban Meyer, former University of Florida head football coach (where Tim Tebow was one of his greatest players), is an evangelical Christian, and however "nondenominational" these Bible studies are claimed to be they're going to have that far right bent to them.  These Bible studies are going to be largely about Jesus, of course, and Jews, whose version of the Bible does not include the New Testament, are not going to attend.  How Meyer will "cater" to Jews and Muslim football players is not explained.  And what of the "young men" who don't want to worship at all?  How will Meyer treat them?
Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer

Suppose you are an 18 year-old Ohio State player, newly recruited to the team, and you come from a family of atheists.  When the famous Urban Meyer puts his arm around you and asks if you've "found Jesus" and want to attend the coach's Bible study and prayer groups, what will you reply?  If you smile and say, "Sorry, coach, but I don't believe in that stuff," you'll soon be very familiar with sitting on the bench, and the scholarship you've been granted will shortly be at risk.  Go along, get along, or get out.

Of course it's not just the atheist students who'll be more or less forced to give in and pretend to a Christianity they don't feel, but all of the student athletes who have no strong religious beliefs one way or the other.  And that's exactly what Meyer wants: bring them under the tent, expose them to Jesus, put them under tremendous pressure to conform (or else), and hope that they'll thereby become saved in the eyes of the Lord!  Halleluiah!

This is all of a piece with the very successful penetration that evangelical Christianity has had in placing chaplains on almost all of the professional football, baseball, and basketball teams in the United States (over 100 of them).  As is appallingly detailed by Tom Krattenmaker, a religion writer for USA Today and Salon who wrote the 2009 book Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks Into Pulpits and Players Into Preachers, these teams all hold prayer sessions and Bible studies for the players, and those who do not join are made to feel like second-class team members.  Jews have been sternly informed that, alas, they are going to hell unless they convert, and some have been advised to explore the Jews For Jesus organization.  Their chaplains preach the straight conservative evangelical line, and have resisted the idea that other religions are of equal value.  The players who conform are proud to parade their love of Jesus before the cameras, celebrating in his name when touchdowns are scored or World a Series is won, and giving him credit for victories (but, of course, never the blame for losses). 

Tebowing

This leads to other problems.  The Columbus Dispatch ran an article in the Sports section this past week that began like this:

In a scarlet and gray world, a lavender shirt sticks out.

And that’s the point, said Ohio State football’s new director of performance, Mickey Marotti. In putting the Buckeyes through the first winter conditioning program under coach Urban Meyer, he has made the lavender shirt the wardrobe of a loafer on the field, in the weight room, at the training table or in the classroom.

“You don’t want to wear those,” senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said yesterday.

So far, he hasn’t. Not many players have been identified as lollygaggers. 

               “It’s week five, the guys are training really hard, they’re buying in to what we’re feeding  them,” Marotti said.

It never occurs to Marotti, of course, that some of his players might actually be gay or that even the straight ones often have gay friends and relatives who would be very offended by this form of humiliation.  The Bible, in the view of evangelicals, clearly consigns homosexuals to eternal torment in hell, and obviously they're such lavender sissies that none of them could possibly be football players of any worth.

Coach Mickey Marotti

This article caused me to send a "Letter to the Editor" to the Dispatch:


So Ohio State football's new director of performance makes players who are loafers on the field, in the weight room, etc., wear a lavender shirt to embarrass them ["New strength coach a colorful motivator," Feb. 13, 2012]. Does he also use anti-gay slurs when referring to these slackers or is the shirt's color enough to send the same homophobic message?

Douglas Whaley
Dublin, Ohio


So far I haven't heard whether the Dispatch is interested in printing my letter, and perhaps it's just as well if it doesn't.  I don't need to have my condo burned down because I had the temerity to criticize Urban Meyer and his Christian coaches.










Postscript (March 6, 2012):
When a gay organization at Ohio State sent Coach Meyer (whom I've been informed is a devout Catholic) written protest about the lavender shirt, he responded in writing that the color of the shirt would be changed.  Some of the "Comments" below doubt that the lavender shirt was meant to be a gay slam.  If you Google up "gay lavender" you'll see that the connection is obvious.  In Columbus, for example, the gay "Yellow Pages" are called "Lavender Listings."  The football players clearly got the message—they called it the "Queer Shirt."

Postscript (August 24, 2012):

For the latest episode in this story see my post "Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team," dated August 24, 2012

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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stepping on Cats

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After nearly two years of cat ownership, I've been well and truly trained by my two cats: Barney (stupid and loveable) and Mama (taking over the world).  Many things about these two felines amaze me, and this post is about why.

First of all, both cats sleep an incredible amount of the time!  Barney is the champion here, though Mama is no slouch herself.  After many long naps all day, at 11 p.m., Barney wearily climbs onto what I think of as my bed in the Master Bedroom and he thinks of as Barney's bed (or, at best, the "mammal bed," given that he must share it with both Mama and me), and then he's down and out until about 9 a.m.  When I first acquired Mama (before Barney), I was initially worried that she was  sick, since she seemed to sleep too much (I grew up with dogs).  I later learned the interesting fact that cats sleep more than any other mammal on the planet.  A cat that lives to be fifteen will have been asleep ten years of its life!

Barney: A Lot of Cat for the Money

My two cats are very different from each other (though they are buddies).  Barney is a "get-along, go-along" kind of guy.  Mama, on the other hand, believes to the very core of her tiny being, that she is in charge of not only Barney but also of me (the "Big Mammal"), and she's annoyed when I don't agree with that assessment.  The only reason she doesn't prevail in our frequent disputes is that Mama only weighs ten pounds, and I weigh . . . more than that, and—damn it!—she can't figure a way around this annoying weight disparity.  She saved my life last summer (see "Related Posts" below), so I cut her some slack on this, and sometimes let her win our battles.

When petting cats, I have the same rule that I have for teaching law students, impressing people in conversations, acting, or even sex: see everything through the eyes of the other entity.  When either Mama or Barney climbs into my lap with the clear message of  "pet me now— it's important!" I do so with a determined effort to experience the petting from the cat's point of view.  What does he/she like and what does he/she not like?  In this, my two cats are very different.  Mama loves to have her head completely enclosed, as if I were grasping her head from the front in a grip that will deprive her of both sight and sound.  After I've petted her in the usual way for awhile, I slowly work up to this, and—since she's knows it's coming—she gets impatient and forcefully thrusts her head into the palm of my hand. 

Oh, but Barney would really hate that!  He was much abused as a kitten/young cat, and to this day jerks his head away from even a slow frontal approach by a human hand, even mine.  It's very obvious that Barney was often slapped and slapped and slapped again, and he definitely doesn't want his head touched from the front.  But—"PURR, PURR, PURR"—stroke me on my back, he begs, and then my belly, now try the ears, and eventually—oh,yes!—my whole head.  "PURR, PURR, PURR!"   It gets loud.

Barney loves being picked up and carried around, and to this end will climb (or jump) into my arms, or even into the arms of surprised total strangers.  Mama hates being lifted off the ground.  In the photo below she's savagely thinking "Put me down!what the hell are you thinking?"



I swore when I first acquired Mama that I wouldn't let my new cat sleep with me, but, alas, I was given little choice.  Lock her out of the bedroom and she'll spend hours, off and on, all night, scratching at the door with determination.  This keeps one from sleeping.

I now accept that I will sleep every night until I die with two cats warming themselves on my body, and both (well, at least Mama) being resentful if I get up in the middle of the night for any reason.  My cat-loving friend Pamela (who has seven cats—down from a high of thirteen) says that all cats are "heat whores," and she's right.  The Big Mammal is a major source of big heat, and both Mama and Barney snuggle in close, not caring a whit for my comfort in this matter.

"I Give Up!" --- Barney and Mama at Play

But this post is entitled "Stepping on Cats," so perhaps I'd better address that.  Any cat owner will tell you that at some point in cat ownership you will accidentally step on your cat, usually a foot being trodden upon.

What's interesting about this is how very differently Barney and Mama react to being stepped on. 

About a month ago, and for the first time in the year and a half he's been here, I accidentally stepped on Barney's foot while getting ready to put the cat food down on the floor to feed them.  Barney yelped and started to run.  It's been my experience that when Barney's frightened (which does not happen often) he disappears like lightening into some far corner of my condo, where he'll hide and quiver with terror.  That's certainly what I expected when I stepped on him, but instead he only ran about five feet and then he turned hesitantly and looked back at me.  His ears were down in a dejected, submissive posture, and his big eyes were wide with one consuming question: "It was an accident, right?  You didn't mean to hurt me like all those other Big Mammals used to do, did you?"  Much moved, I picked him up and cuddled old Barney good, murmuring reassurances in his ears.  He started purring right away, and we were fine.

Mama, on the other hand, is constantly being stepped on.  She has a real genius for being underfoot, and it's no accident that she's frequently in the Big Mammal's way.  When excited by the preparation of cat food, she goes into a rapture, and in her frenzy not only purrs loudly (you could hear her in the next room), but rubs up against the food preparer over and over, eventually becoming so excited she throws her little body hard against the food preparer, attempting to rub against the upper thigh while in mid air.  Try as one might to avoid it, Mama will get stepped on in this excitement.  When this happens, she gives an impossibly loud SHRIEK!  After that Mama bolts from the room and goes to some secret corner, screaming with more pain than is really felt.  To placate her, I must seek her out and humble myself at her feet with multiple apologies.  Ever the diva, she lives for these moments in which the Big Mammal is the "little mammal," and after some sniffing with distain, will finally . .  reluctantly . . . forgive me.
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Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013