19 June 2012

How do you say “LOL” in Spanish?

Written 19 June 2012

Greetings, Blog Fans!  It’s been quite a while since I delved into my inner raconteur, and I’ve had several folks asking where my musings have been.  Honestly, I simply lost interest there for a while.  I focused my time and energy into enjoy my last year of college, spending as much time with some of the most entertaining souls I’ll ever know, and taking in every sight, sound, and sensation of St. Louis while I lived there.  But, that’s all part of a beautiful series of memories.  I’m “home” now, and decided tonight that a little short story would make from a nice break from work and studying for my board exams.  So, here goes -- the latest in my quirky odyssey through life!

When I was just a boy (probably around the age of eight), my grandpa took me to Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky, for what would be the first instance in a lifelong love of horse racing.  Granted, I’m not a racing junkie – I only make it to the races a time or two a year, usually bet minimally, and hardly ever win.  Still yet, I do love the sport.  I have three bucket list items pertaining to horse racing:  1) to visit the world famous Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; 2) attend at least one Kentucky Derby in my lifetime; and 3) attend the entire Triple Crown race series. 

I checked one of those items off my list a couple weeks ago when I had to go to Louisville for work training.  My friend and colleague, Casey, and I had to be at our corporate division office bright and early Monday morning, so we planned to leave for Louisville on Sunday.  I looked up the race schedule, and decided that we should leave very early for our meeting so that we could watch some races at Churchill Downs.  We enjoyed an afternoon of mint juleps, lost wagers, and an entertaining cab driver simply named “Captain Jack.”  Based on the number of mint julep glasses we acquired, we undoubtedly had a blast that afternoon.  Bucket List Racing Item #1 – check.
I loved my mint julep!
Casey did not seem to enjoy her mint julep!

After our training, Casey had to return home, and I kicked back to enjoy a free evening on my own.  I had another training session in Indianapolis the following Wednesday, so instead of driving back to Carrier Mills and then to Indy, I decided to just stay an extra night.  This worked out well, as it afforded me a day entirely free to see Louisville.  I took the opportunity to visit the Louisville Slugger factory, tour the Kentucky Derby Museum, and take a couple behind the scenes tours at Churchill Downs.  I was like a kid in a candy shop!

Outside the Kentucky Derby Museum stands a beautiful bronze statue of Barbaro, the 2006 Derby winner who ultimately died of an injury sustained in the Preakness Stakes.  As I was leaving the museum, I decided I wanted a picture in front of the statue – a beautiful shot featuring art, a panorama view of Churchill Downs’ entrance, and a studly gentleman amidst it all.  Two women and a girl (approximately 15) were taking photos by the statue, so before they could walk away I asked if one of them would mind taking my photo.  The girl eagerly nodded and smiled.  As she walked towards me, I turned on the camera and prepared to show her which button to press.  I began to explain, “Here’s the zoom, and here’s the shutter…” when I realized that she’d walked past me.  I looked behind me to find the girl striking a typical teenager “Facebook” pose:  one knee slightly bent, arms akimbo, and displaying a beautiful smile with her head slightly cocked to the side.  Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t have created a better profile picture!

A look of confusion must have come over my face, because one of the women (her mother, I presume) began to quickly chatter with the girl…in Spanish.  The girl’s smile quickly turned into an embarrassed grin.  Her shoulders shrugged, and the overall appearance of “I just made a jackass out of myself” overcame the girl.  The two women began cackling, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. 

The girl very meekly stated in broken English, “You want…YOUR picture, yes?  I thought you work here.”  I tried to muster up as much EspaƱol as one can get out of a four day “College for Kids” day camp back in third grade to tell her, “Yes, please take MY photo.”  She smiled, and took the shot I’d wanted all day.  I thanked her, laughed at the confusion with her, and we went our separate ways.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d cut off the horse’s head and almost the entirety of the Churchill Downs entrance; nor did I know how.

Until next time! 
The most memorable picture from the trip!

25 August 2011

Words My Mother Taught Me

 Written August 9 – 25, 2011

For my dear, sweet Mamsie on her birthday.

Indeed, a man may never find a greater treasure trove of love, life lessons, and pearls of wisdom than that of his own mother.  Countless authors have tried to encompass the multi-faceted nature of the word “mother,” but often fall short of their goal.   How can a mortal being sum up a word that oftentimes seems to circumvent its own meaning?  Perhaps certain words weren’t meant to be described by simple authors.  Or perhaps, certain words, nouns in particular in this case, are best described by the actions and emotions they evoke and the memories they create. 

If asked to describe what the word mother meant to me, my scientific mind would quickly jump to the conclusion of, “the person from whom I received my X chromosome.”  However, jumping to such conclusions could later lead to such a response as, “the person from whom I inherited X chromosome linked baldness.”  That description has even less appeal in the eyes and mind of you, the reader, my dear Mamsie for whom this essay was written, and me, the potentially bald writer, than did the first description, thus proving my own inability to coin a satisfactory definition to the word.  Without delving further into this question in a more philosophical sense, I would be hard pressed to find an exact definition for “mother.”  However, God granted me a mind like an old Polaroid camera – the kind where you could snap a photo, give two shakes, and instantly and forever capture a memory.  So, perhaps by the end of this bit of maternal rhetoric (for which the introduction is seemingly unending) I will have found a fitting way to define “mother,” or at least in my mind.

My Mother is Clever

To give a little in-depth look into my mother, we should first go back to the root of this continuing saga – the point at which I enter the story.  It was around the age of twelve (after that awkward talk we all get – I could write a whole essay solely on those talks) that I began to wonder about my grand entrance into the world.  I realized that there were only five months between the time when my parents married (June 27, 1987) and my birth (November 24, 1987).  At first, I thought I was a miracle baby that survived a twenty-week gestation.  But, having soon learned the meaning of the word “bastard,” I realized that I almost was one!

When I grew older (i.e., when I became a young adult), I questioned my parents about the issue.  My dad gave the same shit-eating grin he always does when something tickles him, and muttered something about “boxing the bear.”  (That phrase isn’t even defined in Urban Dictionary!  It’s all his own.)  My mother, being her usual candid self, recounted the usual story of meeting Dad at the local Bonanza Steakhouse, one of the apparent hotspots for singles back in the day.   She then continued on into unfamiliar terrain – the period between that fateful shift at Bonanza and primiparity. 
If there was ever a pregnant teenager that could pull the wool over someone’s eyes, it was my mother.  How she convinced two educated individuals (i.e., my grandparents) that she had persistent nausea, vomiting, and weight gain for four months straight without setting off any kind of parental alarms is beyond my cognition.  I can picture her running amok as a teenager, carrying on with the day-to-day grind of the senior year of high school.  “Oh, that vomit?  That’s okay. No need for prenatal care here! Nothing that a little Dramamine won’t quell, ya know!”  Alas, though, the farce was blown when a message was left for her about registering for WIC.  It was a good run, though!  I’m still kind of impressed.  Having heard just this one story, I understand what Mamsie meant when she once told me, “You won’t be able to pull any of that shit with me!”  She literally meant it!  She knew the tricks when I was growing up, because if you look at it into perspective, we sort of grew up together.  After all, when she was my age, I was five…  She often harps about me putting her into a nursing home in her advanced age.  I remind her that I’ll probably need one first!  Even more so, she’ll be the clever Fountain View resident to escape over a fence in the courtyard anyway.

My Mother is Protective

My mother is an only child, and I ended up that way, too.  There’s something about the mothers of only children that isn’t quite like those with multiple kids.  I think it’s an over sensitization to anything that could go wrong in that child’s life.  The mother hen characteristics are strong in most every mother.  Mother’s of only children, though, are more like mother hawks.  My mother is no exception to this behavior.  Just the other day, she called to tell me that she bought me a hammer to keep underneath the driver’s seat of my car.  “I don’t like you going into St. Louis all the time.  Keep it under there in case someone tries to carjack you.  That way, you can just roll down the window and hit ‘em between the eyes.  This one has a really good claw on it, too!”

This is just one recent prime example of my mother’s protective nature.  It’s not unusual for me to hear things like: 
-       “Don’t be riding your bike on the side of the highway.  That’s where people come up behind you and shoot you in the back of the head.”
-       “I don’t want you walking to the library at night.  You know how people get raped and sodomized all the time on college campuses.”
-       “Wait ‘til your dad gets home to eat that chicken.  I don’t want you choking.”  (This particular episode was when I was at the young age of sixteen.  The chicken was boneless.)
-       “Don’t forget to keep your doors locked.  Do you still keep a gun close by your bed?”
-       “I saw on Dateline NBC where two friends were hiking in the woods and got eaten by bears.  Is that what you want?  Me worrying about you being eaten by bears?”
-       “You make yourself a doctor’s appointment right now, you hear!  It’s could be a tumor.”
-       “Don’t wear that shirt – you’ll get your ass kicked!”

I could go on and on about my overly protective mother, but I think you get the picture.  Although I do think she takes Dateline NBC a tad too seriously, I know that deep down her quirky remarks come from a genuine concern and worry for her only hatchling.

My Mother is a Force to be Reckoned With

To say that my mother is a force to be reckoned with is an understatement.  I’m a grown man twice her size, and I still fear the back of her hand.  Of course, I was a pretty good kid for the most part, so it was pretty rare for her to have to light my woods on fire.  However, she didn’t hold back on anyone that she thought that might be short-changing her Bubby.  I suppose this goes hand in hand with her protective nature. 

As a child, I recall always being able to turn to Mamsie if I was being picked on, upset, or angry.  I remember a bigger kid cutting in front of me in line at a concession stand once.  Soon after, he learned that Mama Stace has really sharp elbows.  Another time, after literally working for nine months perfecting a piano sonata, a contest judge made me cry with his harsh critiques.  It wasn’t long after that that Mamsie had that sorry son of a bitch (her description; not mine) backed into the corner of a room, her index finger edging closer and closer to his chest with each torrent of maternal obscenities.  To this day, Mams will still ruffle her feathers if something has me bothered.  “Oh, that awful professor has you all worked up again?  That son of a bitch will think twice about that when I get up there!”   She never ceases to make me smile when she gets worked up!

My Mother is a Lady…In Certain Ways

My Mamsie recently told me, “You know, I think I turned out to be pretty ladylike.  I’m prim and proper.”  I chortled a bit when she said this.  On some things, I would say she is prissy – the kind of prissiness that doesn’t like to kill spiders or get dirty.  But “prim and proper” struck me a bit funny.  In fact, when she said this, the only thing I could think of was a vision of her in my mind in the summertime doing one of her favorite summer activities:  puffing away on a cigarette while she flips burgers on a grill.  “You know how it is,” she’d say.  “Sometimes you just want drag off a ciggy, and I like to do it while I flip burgers!”  If that doesn’t say “ladylike,” I don’t know what will!

My Mother Always Makes Me Laugh…Hysterically

My Mamsie is by far the funniest person I know.  Whether it is her rendition of the Nelly classic Hot In Herre, or one of her sarcastic diatribes, she never ceases to make me laugh.  Even if her sarcastic attacks go straight for my gullet, I still cannot help but laugh.  For instance, she recently wrote a letter to me as if it was written by me.  “Hello, I hope you feel worthy of having your nose up my ass, because you’re not.  I enjoy my crisp button-down shirts, jazz, and dry martinis, and I go to Asshole University,” she wrote.  She has that kind of way of words that makes me laugh hysterically, yet reminds me not to get too big of a head. 

Some of my mother’s most hilarious moments are when she’s not even really trying to be funny – they just happen, because that’s how she is.  For example, my mother’s most sincere thoughts never fail to give me a little chuckle, especially if it comes to things like religion.  “You know those Jews don’t have Jesus in their heart, so don’t even think about going to temple.”  “This here’s the Bible Belt; we’ll shoot your ass for doing stuff like that here.” 

Some of my mother’s antics may appear somewhat zany, if not completely insane if you didn’t know the woman.  My mother’s pure slapstick humor comes out every night around 10:00 p.m. – after she’s had her nightly Ambien (and she will kill me for sharing these stories).  It’s not unusual for me to get a call on my cell phone when I’m home only to receive an order for whatever late night munchies she’s craving.
-       “Bring me three cheese doodles with a spoonful of peanut butter.”
-       “Go peel me a raw potato, and put just a little smidgeon of salt on it.  Just a pinch, ya know.” 
-        “If you don’t hurry your ass up here with my Doritos, it’s not going to be pretty.”

Mildly insane?  Perhaps.  But let’s be honest, who among us doesn’t have those funny little quirks that make us who we are.   

My Mother is Unique

I think it is clearly evident now that I have perhaps the most unique mother in America, if not the world.  If you didn’t know her, you’d think she was a little off, and perhaps she is.  But, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m equally in left field.  Perhaps that’s why we have such a good mother-child relationship.  As Mom would say, “It takes all kinds…” Up to this point, I’ve done a fairly decent job describing my interaction with my mother, but I still feel that I haven’t fully defined “mother,” as I set out to do in the beginning of this essay.  Perhaps, that’s because I’ve yet to get to the cornerstone of who my mother truly is.

My Mother is Loving

Underneath it all – the sarcastic remarks, the fierce mother hawk, the Marlboro puffing grill master – is a woman with a heart the size of Texas.  Without a doubt, the Lord couldn’t have blessed me with anyone that would offer up so much love and support than my mother.  Surely something divine happened that fateful night so long ago when my parents met at that popular hot spot I mentioned earlier.  All my life, I’ve been inundated with maternal love, and for that I am so very thankful.  However, my mother’s love extends far beyond myself.  She extends that love to her family, friends, church family, and the community.  Much of her loving nature goes unrecognized, as she wishes to take no credit for her kind acts.  She touches the lives of many who may not even know her name.  She’s touched the lives of people from Carrier Mills to Senegal.  I’ve learned more from my mother by her actions than any Dateline NBC lessons she imparts. 

My mother has been a driving force in defining the man that I am today.  She’s taught me to be humble, to give back to my fellow man, and to show compassion to all people.  She’s taught me to aspire for great things, to never give up hope, and to not stress too much.  She’s taught me to love and serve the Lord, and I know that there’ll be hell to pay if I happen to miss a Sunday service. 

So, as I conclude this brief tribute to my mother, I think back to the original question I posed.  How do you define mother?  As I’ve demonstrated, my mother is quite unique, and perhaps there really isn’t a proper way to give a finite definition to such a term.  The way I define it is likely different than that of other sons.  So who is my mother?  Well, she’s the insanely funny, fiercely overprotective, nurturing, and loving person who has molded me into the person I am today.  Not to mention, the she’s the person from whom I received my X chromosome.

 Happy birthday, Mamsie!  I love you!

14 August 2011

Letters from Rosebud: Part III - The One Where We Went to Sturgis

Written on 14 August 2011

Vikings fan?  Nah...just a Sturgis-goer!
I’ve been known to delve into the least likely situations and wander off in the most unfamiliar places that you would ever expect to find me.  This weekend was no exception.  Ryan and I have been banking extra hours at the hospital to earn some time off.  So, we only worked half a day on Friday, and headed to the largest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in the world – The Sturgis Black Hills Rally.  I know that when you think of me, the first things that come to mind are probably “white bread” and “cardigan sweaters.”  Not, “leather chaps” and “motorcycle rally.”  You’d be right to make those first two associations.  I’ll admit it, I’m openly “white bread,” as I have been told, and I do love my old man sweaters.  I do, however, seem to get a wild hair for adventure from time to time, though.  And so, we begin the story of the time I went to Sturgis.

As soon as we could change out of our slacks and pack the car, Ryan and I were gone from Rosebud!  We couldn’t have left soon enough – we were both going batty from being cooped up inside “Motel 6.”   We hit the road for Rapid City, where we would be spending the night.  Per Google Maps, we should have taken Highway 18 to Highway 73, and then gotten on Interstate 90 for Rapid.  We stumbled upon Highway 63, though, and decided to take it instead.  After all, we hadn’t been through that part of the reservation yet.  We soon learned why we didn’t normally go down Highway 63. 

We passed through the small town of Parmalee, which almost made Rosebud look nice.  As we approached the edge of town, we came to a crudely spray painted sign that read, “Drive slow Pot holes next 6 miles.”  Assuming that the road ahead would have a pothole or two, we proceeded on like nothing was up.  Soon after, I realized that I had just entered an automotive no-man’s land.  I swerved from side to side of the road for six miles dodging potholes of every diameter and depth.  Other than a few mild contusions from jostling about the car, we made it out of the no-man’s land safely.  Just like a Billy Mays commercial (“But wait!  There’s more!), there was more to be offered by this God forsaken highway.  What was once a pothole riddled highway turned into a two-lane gravel highway!  For almost thirty miles (it seemed), we rolled along an actual loose gravel highway.  We finally passed through a small ghost town, and then made it to I-90.  We carried on our way to Rapid City as quickly as we could.

We were an hour or so early to check into our hotel, so we went to the local Scheel’s sporting goods store.  It was quite nice to walk into a large department store…with people!  After an hour or so, we checked into our hotel, the local Howard Johnson, and couldn’t have been happier.    I literally jumped for joy when we discovered that we not only got a really good deal through Travelocity, but also managed to get a two king-sized bed suite!  We grabbed a bite to eat at the nearby microbrewery, and then headed off to our next great adventure – Sturgis!

Grizzly Adams?
As we approached the tiny town of just over 6,000 people, we were amazed at the volume of motorcycle traffic on the highway (although not at all surprised).  As I exited onto the main road into town, we were immersed in a world all its own.  We passed by house after house with signs reading “Bikini Bike Wash,” “Tent Space Available – Pool and Bathroom Access,” and “Hot Showers – Bikers Welcome.”  As it turns out, the whole community becomes involved with bike week!  I found a place to park near the Sturgis High School, threw my Club steering wheel lock onto the Jeep, and then we headed downtown for a night of fun.  As we strolled the streets of Sturgis, men and women in way too tight-fitting leather passed us all around.  Women wearing little more than pasties and magical underwear (the kind that tend to somehow vanish) walked through the masses as if they were wearing their Sunday finest.  A man wearing animal hides over his head rolled through on a patriotic themed bike, resembling something like Grizzly Adams.  The vast array of motorcycles glistened in the setting sun.  It was quite a site to see, no doubt.  Perhaps the best way this night started was by a woman asking Ryan if I was his father.  “Is that your dad over there?” she asked.  “You look like you’re twelve!”

Main Street, Sturgis, SD
We stopped in a little rat-hole bar for a drink before checking out one of the clubs.  Perhaps the best thing we discovered about this area is that Fat Tire brews are cheap here!  We were about halfway through our beers when a bouncer came racing to the bar.  He said to Ryan, “Dude!  I’m going to have to see your ID.  You look like you’re twelve.”  After thoroughly examining his driver’s license, we convinced him that Ryan actually was a month older than me.  We went to a newly opened club across the street, and stood out on the balcony for a while just people watching.  We left the club around 9:00 to head to the Full Throttle Saloon, the biggest biker bar in Sturgis.  As I unlocked the car, I realized that there was something very different about the key I held in my hand.  The fact that it was one “key” sent my mind spiraling into a fit of obscenities and self-hatred.  I recalled that I took my key ring off my car key at the hotel so I wouldn’t have to carry it all around Sturgis – after all, my hotel key fit in my money clip.  My eyes then turned to the Club steering wheel lock standing firm and ready to deter any potential car thieves.  A vision of my key ring sitting on my hotel nightstand – with the Club’s key – began haunting my mind.  Not only had I deterred thieves from taking my car; I’d deterred myself from driving it away! 

Who says I look out of place?
My heart began racing as thoughts of having to pay a cabbie for a 90-mile round trip fare to Rapid City flooded my mind and billfold…  “Get on Google, and find out how to break into a Club,” I told Ryan.  As he was looking up how to essentially break into my own car, I began prying on the Club.  I managed to get a hook off either side of the steering wheel, but the Club was still holding fast to its duty.  “Take a screwdriver, and hammer it into the lock,” Ryan said.  So, I went to the back of the car, grabbed a screwdriver and the only thing I had to use as a hammer – a wrench Dad had given me before I left.  I hammered furiously at the lock, driving the screwdriver deep into its mechanism.  Nothing happened, though.  The Club was still latched on tight.  For a half-hour or better, we tried and tried to get the silly Club off, but to no avail.  It was decided that we would need either a bolt cutter or hacksaw to try to get the Club off. 

The Biggest Biker Bar in Sturgis!
So, I set out on a quest to find a tool to use.  I walked through the neighborhood where we were parked, looking desperately for a house that looked like it was inhabited.  I happened upon a small bungalow with its porch light on and front door opened – a sign from the Most High, for sure.  I walked up the porch steps to see two old men sitting inside watching reruns of some old show.  I knocked on the door, introduced myself, and explained my predicament to the men.  They looked at me a bit confused, but nevertheless, they were kind enough to help me out.  One of the old men said he had a hacksaw in his garage, but the blade was dull.  I told him I’d try anything.  As he went to the garage, the other old man invited me in to sit on his couch.  As I sat in the house of utter strangers in Sturgis, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for once again getting into a situation that only I could wind up in.  After a short while, the other man returned with a hacksaw – and he was right; the blade was very dull.  I assured him that I would return the saw to him as soon as I managed to pry off the Club.  I returned to the car, saw in hand, and determined to  break my way into my own car.  Ryan held the Club steady, and I began to saw feverishly at one of the hooks holding the Club tight to my steering wheel.  For ten minutes, I sawed as hard and fast as I could.  Beads of sweat rolled off the tip of my nose as I tore through the metal of the Club.  All the while, passersby shouted, “Don’t do it!  It’s not worth it, man!  At least go for a Lexus or ‘Beamer!’”  At last, the dull blade of the saw made its final cut, and I had successfully broken into my own car.  I walked back to the old men’s house to return the saw; this time I had a little more spring in my step. 

I returned to the car, and we continued on our journey to the Full Throttle Saloon!  We drove to the outskirts of town, laughing uncontrollably the whole way.  Our laughter was soon stifled by the immense site before us – The Full Throttle.  It only took a second to realize why this place had its own Travel Channel special.  Thousands of motorcycles reflected the glow of neon lights.  We entered the massive building, and stopped to grab a drink.  The bartender snarled at Ryan, “I’m going to have to see your ID.”  She did everything to verify his ID short of calling up the Secretary of State’s office.  “I swear, he’s a month older than me,” I laughed.  “Yeah, well he looks twelve,” she hatefully replied.  At this point, I didn’t care how rude the woman was; I was laughing too hard to care!  I think steam could have rolled out of Ryan’s ears after the third person said he looked twelve!

My favorite bike - a vintage Indian
We walked around the vast Full Throttle complex, taking in all the sites.  Bikers wear little more than chaps, scantily clad dancers, fire-eating entertainers, and the Marshall Tucker Band were all part of the normal Full Throttle scene.  We stayed for about an hour or so, and as was a common occurrence that night, had many laughs.  We returned to our hotel, and had the greatest night of sleep in the past several weeks!

The next day, we went back to Sturgis to look at the bikes, go to the motorcycle expositions, and have one more round of people watching.  We left around midday to go to Deadwood, the famous Wild West town known as the stomping grounds of famous Western characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.  We walked the streets of the of old frontier town, which has been remarkably preserved.  Several of the buildings showed clear evidence of being there for well over a century.  We passed by old hotels, gambling halls, and the No. 10 Saloon, where Wild Bill ultimately met his demise.  Unfortunately, we had to eventually leave Deadwood to return to Rosebud.  We did manage to make a pit stop in Wall to get some ice cream at Wall Drug.  We returned to our humble Motel 6 totally exhausted, but glad that we were able to get away for a weekend abounding with adventure!
Main Street, Deadwood, SD

Until next time, blog fans! 

Don't show Aces and Eights here...

07 August 2011

Letters from Rosebud: Part II

Written on 07 August 2011

Greetings, blog fans! Our second week in Rosebud has officially come to an end, and thus, I find it fitting to give you all a brief update on our adventures in the Wild

West. The past week at the hospital was great – I really enjoy the people I’m working with, and I love the freedom that I have to make clinical recommendations and fully use my knowledge. It’s been a very rewarding experience, thus far.

I spent all day Friday in the operating room to observe surgeries. I’ll spare the gory details, but I must admit, it was a very interesting way to spend the day. The first surgery I watched was a Caesarian section. I was amazed at how quickly a C-section is performed. Within ten minutes of the first incision, a beautiful baby girl entered the world! It was a very surreal experience. The second surgery was an extensive hysterectomy and bladder lift. As I said, I’ll just go ahead and spare you those details. I do have a whole newfound respect for women that have undergone a vaginal hysterectomy…

Friday night was spent here at “Motel 6.” Having eaten enough bologna and cheese sandwiches to turn into a loaf of processed meat, I decided that I wanted a good home-cooked meal. So, I fried up a mess of chicken, Ryan fixed the sides, and Megan basked in the glory of what was her first homemade southern fried chicken! That was the pinnacle of our evening. We rounded out the night watching Shark Week, playing a few adult beverage games, and heading to bed fairly early. We certainly know how to live life on the edge here on the “res!”

Saturday was a very fun-filled day. We woke up early, and went on a daytrip to Rapid City (about 3 hours west of here). One of the little unofficial traditions that Ryan, our friends, and I have developed is eating at a locally owned microbrewery wherever we travel. While we were driving west on I-90, we saw a sign for the Firehouse Brewing Co. in downtown Rapid; so naturally, we had to make our lunch stop there. Downtown Rapid City was very cool – it reminded me a lot of the riverfront area in Paducah, KY. After chowing down on a bison burger (I’ve grown to really like bison meat!), we headed south to Keystone to see Mount Rushmore. Even though I’d been there before, Mount Rushmore still strikes me as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and by far uniquely “American.” After a short hike around the base of the Mount, we departed for a drive through the Black Hills. We drove past the Crazy Horse Mountain and through Custer State Park.

We arrived back in Rosebud around 7:00 that evening, and immediately left for a little Rosebud shenanigans! One of the pharmacists we’ve been working with was having a cookout, so he invited us along. It was really fun to really get to know the people we’ve been working with and their spouses. It is evident that one must develop a certain sense of gallows humor to live here for a prolonged period of time. One of the pharmacist’s wife sat down with us, and quickly struck up a very lively conversation. As it turns out, she grew up in Illinois, too, so we quickly bonded. We were introduced to many different facets of reservation life, including wandering bison, res dogs, and our favorite, the phrase “res-tastic.” My side literally hurt from laughing so hard throughout the whole night.

Today was an interesting day, because we got to experience the native culture firsthand. After church and lunch, we went out to a secluded spot in the woods to observe a Lakota Sundance ceremony. I’m unsure of all of the meanings behind a Sundance, but it is essentially to make sacrifices to the Creator. The Sundance ceremony follows very stringent guidelines, such as women must wear long skirts, and typically you must be invited to attend. The Crow Dog family held this Sundance, and it was particularly large. I don’t think too many people realized

we were there uninvited. The dance is part of a several day ritual that involves dancing, praying, fasting, and offerings of flesh. Yes, I did say flesh. The dancers are piercedthrough the chest with either a sharpened stick or bison bone, and are tied to the Tree of Life in the center of the dance grounds. At the end of one of the rounds, the dancers run away from the tree, tearing the skin, and thus making a flesh offering. When we arrived to the dance, the flesh offerings had already been given. We still got to see a water ceremony dance, though, which was very interesting.

(The above photo is of the Sundance ceremonial grounds. You'll notice the "arbor" in the foreground, and the Tree of Life in the background.)

As we were leaving the ceremonial grounds, someone questioned our presence there, which segues into my ultimate feelings from this week – the feeling of being unwanted. As I’ve begun to grow accustomed to life on the res, I can’t help but feel the overwhelming sense of being out of place here. I’ve been through the ghettos of St. Louis, the busy streets of New York, dark alleys in Philadelphia, the hedonistic streets of New Orleans, and the African bush, and never have I ever maintained such a sense of being out of place. Twice we’ve had our picture taken by locals, patients become extremely frustrated when I don’t understand them mumbling a last name like “Never Misses a Shot,” and today, we saw a bumper sticker reading, “Wasichu: The Other White Meat.”

The perplexity of this culture reminds me of the classic novel/film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and it is perhaps ironic that I relate very strongly to the only Indian character in the story, Chief Bromden. Throughout the story, Chief Bromden, a patient in a psychiatric hospital, is thought to be dumb and deaf. At one point, though, it is learned that he has been pulling off a farce throughout the whole film/novel. The main character, Randle MacMurphy (Jack Nichelson), offers the Chief a piece of gum, to which he replies, “Thank you. Mmm…Juicy Fruit.” It is at that point that MacMurphy realizes that the Chief has the entire hospital staff hoodwinked. He was simply misunderstood by the staff. It is my hope and prayer that by the end of this rotation, the community and I have that “Juicy Fruit” moment, when we both realize that there are more ties that bind than separate. I suppose I should wrap this story up for now. Next week is bound to be much more entertaining, as Ryan and I will be traveling to Sturgis, SD, for the annual Sturgis Bike Week Rally! I’m sure I won’t stand out at all there, either! (I hope you read that with an intonation of sarcasm!)

As an addendum to what I already wrote, when I finished writing this, a double rainbow painted the sky over Rosebud. I think that's definitely a sign of things looking up!

Until next time!

31 July 2011

Letters from Rosebud: Part I

Written on Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dedicated to the men, women, and children of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate

Good day, blog fans! It’s been a while since I last recounted a tale of my adventures, or probably better stated, my misadventures. Of late, I’ve attained a knack for getting myself into seemingly sticky situations, and my current situation would probably fall into that category by most able-minded people’s perspectives. I don’t know if my brain is wired differently than normal society, or perhaps if I was poorly oxygenated in utero, but I’ve found that by getting into said situations, I grow as a person within, and more importantly, I grow as a citizen of the world. (The above photo is of the Rosebud Indian Comprehensive Health Services Hospital where we are practicing.)

The last time I travelled to an outside place to practice pharmacy was in Africa. The plight of the poor, starving, and malnourished tore at my heartstrings. I felt as though I had truly discovered what it meant to be “poor.” My societal blinders have once again been removed; I never expected them to be removed in my own back yard, though. Fate has brought me over a thousand miles from home, to a land where United States statistics are inverted. Today I sit in a land where dreams simply don’t come to fruition, but rather, there was never anything to catalyze their formation in the first place. I write to you from a land where the employment statistics don’t read “10% unemployed,” but instead “10% employed,” because frankly, the land supports but one industry: ranching – an industry dominated by white settlers. Tonight I will sleep in a land where babies are born into a vicious cycle of poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and neglect, with no seemingly reasonable way out. This is the reality that our government designated as “protected” tribal lands many years ago. This is the reality of life on an American Indian reservation. (FYI, I use the term “Indian” after being told, “Saying Native American makes you sound like a politically correct, stuffy white person. Even the Indians refer to themselves as Indians!”)

Perhaps I should back up a bit before I plunge into the plight of the Rosebud Sioux reservation. After all, what would one of my pieces be without an inkling of levity? Our story began back in the Fall of 2010, when my classmates and I were informed of special pharmacy rotations that would take us to very unique practice sites. Having been to the Black Hills before, I immediately decided I wanted to do a rotation with the Indian Health Service on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. After being slated a rotation here from our lottery, the adventures to come sat idly in the back of my mind until last Saturday, when my friend, Ryan, and I departed Edwardsville for an adventure in the American West. If it were humanly possible to write about the excitement and interesting sites along our journey through Kansas and Nebraska, I would, but the key word to that statement is “humanly.” (The photo to the left is of a house in Rosebud. Whether or not it is abandoned is still a mystery to me.)

We crossed the South Dakota/Nebraska border around 11:00 p.m. As we approached the tiny town of Rosebud, we were greeted with a sign riddled with graffiti: “Welcome to the Land of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate – The Burnt Thigh Nation.” We approached the hospital, where we would be given access to our living quarters. We walked into a small emergency room to discover a dozen or more people patiently waiting for care from the immensely understaffed ER. We were finally given the OK to go to our home for the next five weeks, a six-bedroom dormitory known as “Motel 6”. As we unloaded, passersby stopped on the road to watch as a new pair of outsiders prepared for life on the “res.” The dorm is one of the nicer housing structures in Rosebud, which doesn’t really saya lot. It bears the resemblance of an old mental institution on the inside, and the furniture is basically an overflow of things the hospital no longer needed. We quickly stashed our things away, and then retired for the night on old hospital beds.

The next morning, we decided to try out the local Catholic church just down the road. We arrived about ten minutes before mass was scheduled to begin. We stood outside the building with two older Indian men for several minutes, until they informed us that the priest sometimes didn’t make it for mass. We drove to the nearest “big” community, which also had the nearest United Methodist congregation – forty-five minutes away! After the service, we stopped for lunch, and then returned to Rosebud for the day. We were yet to receive keys to Motel 6, so we stopped by the ER again. The groundskeeper, Robert, informed us that he would be by sometime that afternoon. In the meantime, the security officers let us back into the dorm. Robert arrived late in the afternoon, and was quite a talker! After filling out the necessary paper work, Robert decided he’d just sit a spill and chat with us. After an hour or so, he finally departed, but not without one piece of advice: “Hey, man, you should probably move your car up closer to your bedroom window. The kids are out of school, you know, and they like to throw rocks through visitors’ windows! Move it up closer so you can hear them, you know.” “Great,” I thought. That evening, our dorm-mate, Megan, a medical student from the University of Minnesota, arrived back to Motel 6 from a camping excursion. After fixing one of my typical suppers – PB&J, bologna and cheese, Ramen noodles, Spam concoctions, etc. – we went to bed pretty early. After all, we had a job to do the following day.

Rosebud is a very small town, the population of which I do not know. The sole highway is filled with potholes and without lines to guide you, the housing here is pathetic, and the only source of daily living and social needs exists at the “All-Stop” gas station. We have found ways to bide our time away when we’re not working. Driving to the nearest grocery store (15 miles away), bike riding (up horribly steep hills), reading, playing cards and weekend get-away adventures – these have kept us, or at least my mind, occupied! After work on Friday, Ryan and I drove to the nearest decent restaurant – approximately twenty minutes away. It was nice having a good, hot meal! Two amusing things came of this little trip. The first was that we discovered the area’s “watering hole,” which was literally a large, walk-in refrigerator with a drive-thru window. As we were about to leave the restaurant, I noticed that an Indian had spotted us, and quickly snapped a picture of us with his cell phone…not that we didn’t already feel out of place. Yesterday, Ryan, Megan, and I drove to the Badlands National Park for hiking and site seeing. After a day in the Badlands, we were very dirty, wreaked of sweat, and were somewhat tired. But that didn’t deter us from taking in the world-famous Wall Drug Store down the road. Without a doubt, Wall Drug takes the cake for America’s most hokey roadside attraction (a.k.a., tourist trap). I still love it, though! After visiting the pharmacy museum, enjoying a

bison burger, and some homemade ice cream, we returned to Rosebud for a night of shooting the breeze. The past week has been a blast, despite the living conditions here. There is still, however, the reality of life on the reservation that weighs on the back of my mind. (The photo above to the right is of Ryan, Megan, and me in front of the Pinnacles at the Badlands National Park. The photo to the left is at Wall Drug in Wall, SD.)

I must say, I thoroughly enjoy working at the Indian Health Service hospital. It is so very hard to find dedicated health care providers in this area, so the knowledge and expertise of pharmacists is really utilized to its fullest. The staff members have embraced us as one of their own, and are generally fun to work with. Practicing in this patient population has proven very interesting. A vast majority of the patients I’ve seen have had very similar medication orders: thiamine and folic acid for alcohol withdrawal; phenytoin for withdrawal seizure prophylaxis; insulin, metformin, glyburide, etc. for diabetes; and more blood pressure medicines than seems humanly possible. The overall health of the Rosebud Sioux tribe is poor, if not “extremely” poor. One of the leading causes of death here, falling, is an immediate result of the rampant alcoholism. Across America, the leading cause of death in young adults – my age group – is automobile accidents. Here it is suicide. Twenty-somethings with congestive heart failure, drug and alcohol abuse in all age groups, tuberculosis and other horrible infectious diseases, and a plague of metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, etc.)…These are all the commonplace occurrences here.

Life here is without a doubt very strenuous for the Lakota. I had always heard stories about the horrible conditions on the American Indian reservations. Still, until I experienced this place firsthand, I think my mind would still refuse to believe that such a desolate place exists in the land of the free. I have come to learn that the people here are a result of a forced living situation many years ago – what some would consider a prisoner of war or internment camp. These people didn’t choose to leave their homes for a barren wasteland with no promise of a future just for the hell of it. They were forced here by the Manifest Destiny mentality of wasichu – the word used to describe white men or non-Indians, and which translates to “the one who takes the good meat.” Today, what remains of the Lakota nation are the scattered and broken promises and dreams of generations gone by. Many people are born into this wasteland, and they simply die here never knowing what exists beyond poverty and reliance on the government for their provisions. I have included a link Megan sent me to from a “TED” speaker that has worked with the Lakota for the past several years. Although his opinions may seem a bit extreme at times, I believe you will still find his words as eye-opening as I did.

Until next time,


12 June 2011

Pedal Faster: A Sobering Journey to St. Louis and Back

Written on 11 June 2011

Good day, blog fans! It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog, so all week long I’ve been trying to think of a good topic. Life has been great to me since I last wrote, but I haven’t been particularly inspired by anything to write a devotion, and I hadn’t had any of the quintessential “Cody” moments that give rise to my stories. That is, I hadn’t had any of those moments until today. So, once again I will delve into my inner raconteur to tell the tale of my most absurdly haphazard bike ride…

It was about two months ago when a Facebook ad popped up advertising a charity bike ride being held in St. Louis to benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis. Being in health care, I felt that this was a charity I could easily relate to, and it is certainly a worthy cause. I recruited my riding buddy, Ryan, and we both signed up for a metric century ride on June 17. In the cycling world, metric century translates to 100 kilometers (62.1 miles). The particular ride we are going on is 66 miles, though. Not an easy feat for a fairly new cyclist, but still a challenge worth tackling. I’ve ridden my bike pretty religiously since signing up for this ride. Today is the Saturday before the ride, so I suggested to Ryan that we take a fairly long ride to gauge our preparedness for next weekend. I also suggested that we take a different route from what we’re accustomed to.

A friend came into town last night, and we naturally stayed out into the wee hours of the morning as we often do when we paint the town. I awoke this morning with a stiff neck and a little groggy from a lack of sleep (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). Ryan insisted on riding earlier in the day so he could make it to Saturday Mass. I began to muster my energy in preparation for a day in the hot sun. I pre-hydrated, stretched, and took a long, hot shower to loosen my muscles. I threw on my jersey, loaded the blue beast onto my bike rack, and headed off to pick up Ryan.

We laughed at the stories from the night before as we drove to the Lewis and Clark memorial tower outside Hartford, Illinois. The tower sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and is a trailhead for the Confluence Trail, which would lead us all the way into St. Louis. We began our journey on what was a seemingly standard 32 mile trip. As we turned toward the river front we passed a group of three fellow cyclists. “There’s loose gravel up ahead,” a very cute brunette in the group warned us.

We came to the spot she mentioned. We expected to see a patch of loose gravel over the trail as a makeshift repair. Instead, we discovered that the trail was an endless sea of gravel stretching for miles along the banks of the Mississippi. “Ah, hell!” I exclaimed as the tiny width of my road tires hit the gravel and began to swerve. A torrent of blasphemy and obscenities ejaculated from Ryan’s mouth as he struggled to maintain his balance on the treacherous road. About four or five miles later, we spotted what looked like solid ground ahead of us. Instead, we discovered that it was a hellacious trick of the devil and Mother Nature – the trail, then a stretch of dirt road, had been transformed into a mud bog by floods and rain. As I traversed the trail, my tires cut deep into the mucky silt and kicked mud and rocks all over me. I made it through the bog to discover that Ryan was nowhere near me. I looked back and saw him walking his bike through the filth. His wheels had become so caked in mud that they refused to turn. To give you some background on Ryan, I weigh over a hundred pounds more than he does. How he managed to sink farther in that muck has had physicists and me puzzled all day. He asked to borrow my bike tool to unclog his wheels, and after fighting the mud clot for a few minutes finally managed to dislodge his tire.

We proceeded toward our first major landmark, the McKinley Bridge in St. Louis. We passed through a rather sketchy part of Granite City (okay, most of Granite City is sketchy, but this part was especially shady). We passed through old industrial parks and steel mills that once served as the Titans of a vibrant industrial city. Now, they stood eerily overlooking a city long forgotten, ravaged by cruel economic times. The only good part about riding through Granite City was that we were once again on solid pavement.

As we progressed toward the city, the landscape reiterated that Granite City wasn’t the only community to be gutted by hard times. When we finally crossed the bridge, we took a moment to stop and take in the city skyline. From where we stood, we could see the tall skyscrapers, sporting venues, and the Gateway Arch, all of which contrasted to the neighborhoods north of the bridge – north St. Louis, an area once known as the center of activity for the city, but now known for its desolation, poverty, and violence.

In order to make it back to the trail to Hartford, our journey would have to go through this “rough” part of town. I knew fully well where we were heading, but decided long ago that I not only wanted to see this part of St. Louis, but needed to see it to better understand the struggles of a vast majority of the city. We rode along the banks of the Mississippi. The muddy waters slowly rolled southward as we continued at a quick pace north. As we rounded a corner, I heard the crying of a baby somewhere near the river. I looked to my right to discover a mother comforting her child by their home – an abandoned station wagon left by the riverside. Talk about a site that would break your heart! As we continued, we passed scores of people fishing on the banks of the river, many of whom clearly appeared as though life had dealt them an unfair hand many years ago. Most simply ignored us as we whizzed by them. Some glanced at us with a look of apathy. Others looked at us with disdain.

As the area grew more and more forsaken, we decided to get out of there as quickly as we could (hence the title “Pedal Faster”). Naturally, the faster we pedaled seemed to correlate with increasingly strong winds from the north. We eventually made our way to the old Chain of Rocks Bridge, where historic Route 66 once crossed the Mississippi. We finally felt comfortable enough to stop and rest for a few minutes. We crossed the river back into Illinois, and eventually found ourselves back on the very familiar gravel path. By this time, our legs weren’t quite as spry, and our energy stores were much less than when we first passed through this no-man’s land for cyclists. We drudged on until we say the tall Lewis and Clark tower hovering in the near distance. With a sudden jolt of energy, we pushed toward our goal hard and fast, despite the loose gravel beneath us.

We made it back to my car, grabbed a drink from a nearby vending machine, and made the trip back to Edwardsville. We laughed at our mishaps along the way, cursed our poor planning for the trip, and then just enjoyed the drive back home. I felt a renewed sense of humbleness after our ride. Despite our joking, flowery language, and rough sailing along the way, the greatest thing I took away from today’s ride was the places and people we encountered. The sound of that crying baby has haunted me all evening. It reminded me that at the end of the day, I still have a comfortable place to escape from the midday sun; he or she has an old broken-down station wagon by the river. It reminded me that I have a long, fulfilling and lucrative career ahead of me; his or her future is crapshoot. Today’s ride reminded me that the troubles that I think plague my life pale in comparison to what that innocent child will likely face until his or her dying days. Above all, it reminded me that I should be thankful for everything in my life – my family, friends, job, and even the challenges I face. At the same time, it reminded me to not forget the challenges and hardships others face, and that I have a duty to help those in need.

If you'd like to help me to help others that are in need here in the St. Louis area, please consider donating to my upcoming Metric Century Ride to benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis. RMHC helps to provide families of critically ill children a welcoming place to stay near area hospitals. They create a more home-like environment than hotels, and are extremely cheap (somewhere around $5 a day!). To donate, visit: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/codysandusky/pillpedalers.

Thank you!

02 May 2011

Enduring Freedom

Written on 02 May 2011

Tonight is an historic moment in American history. After nearly ten years since the 9/11 attacks, the United States military served justice to possibly the most despised man by Americans since the Soviet era. As the news sank in, I realized that I was elated to hear of the death of a fellow human. “What a twisted thought,” I thought to myself. Some fellow Christians reminded me via their Facebook posts that it is a sin to rejoice in the demise of an enemy. I applaud them each for their faith and commitment to what is written, and I wholeheartedly agree. But as for this occasion, I will later have to repent.

My heart cannot stop welling with joy at this news. I watched the President’s speech, read media threads, and considered the sacrifices of every American it took to bring this enemy to justice. To me, this night is not about parties – it’s not about war, enemies, or victories. To me, this night is about what it truly means to be an American. This night serves as a reminder that America owes a debt of gratitude to our military men and women. This night reminds me that I have so many freedoms for which to be thankful that my mind cannot even comprehend them all. This night reminds me that we are a resilient people – a people that will never give up in the pursuit of liberty – a people that will rise up against any adversary, tragedy, disaster, or corruption. This night was a reminder of how much I truly love this country.

It seems of late that America’s best days are behind her – that our economy is crumbling, that our congress is impregnated with scandal and partisan bickering, and that our justice system is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Be that as it may, there is one thing that this country will never lose: its spirit of steadfastness, idealism and freedom. No enemy will ever lay claim to our land. No storms or floods will ever keep us from offering a helping hand to our neighbors and rebuilding our cities. No government corruption can spoil the hearts and minds of the people of this great nation. America’s best days are not behind her. They’re still to come. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a jaded and struggling world, this great country will rise again to new reaches.

To our service people, thank you.

To everyone else, rejoice in this great country that God has given us. God bless you, every America, and the grand ol’ USA!