Friday, December 30, 2016

Meanwhile, from the fallout shelter… not much has changed


Earlier today, I was in the laundry room of my ‘new’ (old, it’s old) apartment building, when an older woman entered, wheeling one of those personal shopping carts.  I couldn’t help but notice it had a case of Del Monte canned fruit cocktail on the bottom, with a stack of Hungry Jack Mashed Potatoes boxes on top.  That’s a lot of mashed potatoes!

I should’ve just minded my own business (and I had no intention of saying anything) but she said hello, so I returned the greeting and added “stocking up for the winter?”  She looked down at her cart then said “Well either that or… you know.”

My neighbor’s storage locker in the basement is stocked for a nuclear winter

I said “Er… no I’m sorry, I don’t.”  For all I know, she was talking about a tornado, zombie apocalypse or the Rapture.  Then it hit me and I added “oh, you mean like if Russia dropped the big one?”  She said “Well, we don’t have President Kennedy to stop them now.  My husband always said we should keep our basement stocked and this is probably the closest thing we have to a fallout shelter.”  

Wow.  I think she was half-teasing me, but I still haven’t heard the phrase “fallout shelter” since I was 6 or 7 years old and asked my dad what those yellow & black signs were on a couple of the buildings uptown. 

US Fallout shelter signI wonder if any of these metal signs are still there, like on the courthouse or local Moose lodge

I haven’t gotten out much & still don’t have a lot to share yet after being back in my old hometown after nearly 30 years.  I’m still wrestling with the TMJ, and aside from some quick trips to Giant Eagle (the supermarket down the hill from me) or my sister Shawn’s house, I’ve been mostly indoors nursing a sore, swollen jaw and wondering when (or if) it will be over & I can have a relatively normal life again.  I confess I was a lot more optimistic when I first moved here… ah, I’m still hopeful.

There have been some nice moments—a couple weeks ago, I enjoyed an afternoon reminiscing & catching up with an old friend from high school (Karen Huffman, my ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ classmate) who was in town visiting her mom for the holidays.  We hadn’t seen each other in 35 years.  We met up for lunch at a very nice Mexican restaurant on High Street, which was formerly known as ‘The Waynesburg Restaurant’. 

My grandmother baked pies & waitressed there for many, many years.

Grandma Morris at the Wbg Restaurant

Grandma (in the back, far left) circa 1963; how the restaurant looks today

Well, speaking of Grandma I’ve seen that not ALL things have changed.  In 1968-69 when I was in the second & third grade, I attended school at North Ward Elementary.  At the time, my grandmother was living in a trailer with powder-blue trim that was right along the way. 

I often went there for lunch, or hung out with Grandma after school.  There was an Econo-Wash laundromat that sat directly across her mobile home, and sometimes we’d walk over to get a bottle of Orange Crush pop and play pinball.

The school is gone, it was torn down in 1975; but the Econo-Wash still stands, along with Grandma’s old powder-blue trailer!

powder blue

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It sure would be nice to see a little Christmas magic right about now

This is me waving a magic wand, Christmas morning, 1972.  I’ve shared this story a few too many times with family & other loved ones, but I’m guessing I’ll probably go to my grave saying this was the best Christmas I ever had.

It actually began several weeks earlier, the day after my 11th birthday.  I was with my mom at SA Meyers Jewelry where she was picking up a wristwatch she’d had repaired, when I spotted a pair of musical note cuff-links in the display case and told her she should get them for Dad for Christmas.  (He was a musician on the weekends.) 

Mom said “No, YOU should.”

music note cufflinksI looked at the price tag and my jaw dropped.  “I can’t afford these, they’re $7.99!”  She said “Yes you can.  You get $1.50 weekly allowance, if you put them on layaway today and make a dollar payment every week, you could have them paid off by Christmas.” 

To be honest, I withered a little inside—that money was already budgeted for candy & comic books!  But at the same time I felt nervous & excited at the idea of getting my Dad something so dressy and mature for Christmas, so I said I’d do it.

(And for the next seven Mondays, my mom drove me to town after school where I made my dollar payment.  I picked them up exactly one week before Christmas.) 

That Friday before Christmas, no sooner had we gotten to school we were handed red boxes of Redstone candy and told we were being sent straight home; it was snowing pretty heavily, and the forecast said a couple feet of the good stuff was heading our way.

Can this Christmas get any better? 

When our bus pulled up to the red-dog road leading to our old farmhouse, we saw Dad pulling into the driveway with Grandma Morris in the passenger seat.  Now I was thrilled to have Grandma spending Christmas with us this year more than anyone, but that wasn’t until Monday and it was still Friday morning.  As we ran to hug her, Dad said “I figured we’ll be snowed in by Christmas, so I talked your grandma into spending a couple extra days with us.”     

Christmas just got even better.  Smile   


My sisters Donda-Lin & Shawn, and Grandma Morris on the couch

So of course it was a wonderful weekend, blustery and cold, the snow piled high in blue drifts with no signs of stopping. 

But inside was warm and cheerful and noisy with three adults and five kids (our youngest sister Courtney wouldn’t be here for another 3 years yet), the livingroom smelling of pine tree and old decorations, our kitchen table & every inch of counter space filled with platters of cookies and fudge, bowls of fruit and nuts and boxes of assorted chocolates.  This year had Grandma’s fresh baked bread and pies as well.

I was very excited with the gifts I’d gotten that Christmas morning—a snazzy red bathrobe, a magic set from Grandma, an ant farm and my “big gift”—a metal desk & chair, it’s drawers filled with drawing paper, pencils & markers.   What I enjoyed most though, was my gift to Dad—as he opened the small round jewelry box containing the cuff-links, Mom told him how I was the one who saw them, and made weekly payments.  When he said “Doug they’re beautiful” and hugged me, I busted out crying! 

I can only remember my dad hugging me a couple times in my life, and this was one of them.

I suppose I treasure these memories like I do, and hold onto them so tight, because I never really made new ones of my own.  I’ve gotten a lot older, but can’t help but feel like I never made a real effort to grow up.  For reasons even I can’t explain, I never pursued getting married or having kids of my own… some years I feel some regret over that. 

I suppose this year is one of them.  

A few weeks ago, my TMJ (jaw disorder) returned with a vengeance.  I walk around my half empty apartment in Waynesburg (why did I move, ugh) with these small white patches on my jowls from a portable TENS unit that zaps electrical impulses into my jaw muscles.  Some days the pain isn’t too severe and I can chat with my neighbors and talk on the phone some and pretend I’m half normal. 

Then there are days like yesterday & today, where all you can do is sit & stare, and wonder.  (Not a very cheery message, I know!)  I have to believe I’m going to recover from this, be my old self again and make some new holiday memories.  Until then, for what it’s worth… 

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A whole lot of lovin’ is what she’ll be bringing… c’mon Doug, get happy

I finished this memoir a couple hours ago and was smacking my lips like I’d just finished a tasty meal.  Shirley Jones autobiography hit the bookstores in 2013, but as much as I loved my second-favorite tv mom I couldn’t bring myself to pay $15.99 for another celebrity autobiography—even if she did play a very happy part in my childhood as Shirley Partridge on The Partridge Family.  Nope, wasn’t gonna happen.

And then the reviews came in, and fans cried foul over Shirley’s raunchy sexcapades.  Wait, what?  No!  I’m still not forking over all that dough!

Cut to the present, and the day after the Presidential election I went on looking for something to take my mind off things and Shirley’s book popped up with a reduced price of $7.99.  And for a 55 year old “70s kid” like myself, who lived for Friday night television and the Brady Bunch & Partridge Family, Shirley Jones: A Memoir does not disappoint.

She starts out innocently enough, a small town girl from Charleroi, PA (about 30-40 miles from me) who dreamed of being a veterinarian.  But she liked to sing too, and was told by her church’s choir director she had a good voice so her beloved dad drove her to Pittsburgh weekly for singing lessons. 

 Her singing teacher convinced Shirley to enter a local pageant to win a 2 year scholarship to the Pittsburgh Playhouse; she did, and won the title of ‘Miss Pittsburgh’ in 1952

Then in New York one weekend visiting the former Pittsburgh Playhouse director, he invites her to sing on the empty stage of the theater he’s with, and who overhears her song?  The casting director for Rodgers & Hammerstein, who informs her that Richard Rodgers is right next door, would she sing for him?  She does, he likes what he hears & sees, and casts her in his new show Oklahoma! 

A star is born.


 Shirley in Oklahoma!  "Being a Broadway star would be nice, but I wanted to be a vet.” 

Her rise to fame in Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals isn’t anything new you can’t read on Wikipedia, but I knew things were going to get interesting when she writes of meeting the sauve & debonair Jack Cassidy and was warned by her agent Selma he was a skirt chaser—and married:

She meant so well, Selma did.  She just didnt know that I was—and always would be—the kind of girl who would always do exactly the opposite of what she was asked, a headstrong girl who flew in the face of advice and went against convention, with her eyes fixed on the next adventure!

Shirley then tells us that even though she’s always known she was very sexual, it wasn’t until her early twenties when she met Jack that she lost her virginity (and then some).  On their honeymoon, when Shirley teases him about all the women he’s been with, he nonchalantly adds that he’s been with men too—including famed composer Cole Porter. 

Hey, a struggling actor’s gotta do whatever it takes—especially if you’re a sex-addict like Jack Cassidy.

 Married from 1956 to 1974, Shirley says Jack was an absentee father to their three sons Shaun, Patrick & Ryan.  He cheated on her constantly, once left her for Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), got her to participate in a threesome (she details who did what to whom) & made her life a living hell.  She adds “Jack will always be the greatest love of my life”

Shirley’s film career waned in the 1960s, but she claims it didn’t bother her at all as she loved being a stay-at-home mom to her 3 boys and stepson David Cassidy.  She also tells us that David was well-endowed, so much that his brothers called him “Donk” and Jack once commented “Where did you get that thing?” 

(You can’t help but wonder how this became known, let alone a topic for discussion.)  Shirley sheepishly admits that things might’ve been a little too open when her son Patrick came downstairs one morning while she was fixing pancakes and excitedly told her he just had his first orgasm.  All she could think to say was “That’s nice, dear.”

We then get to the 1970s, when Shirley lets Hollywood know she’d like a television series.  (It was virtually unheard of then, a Broadway performer & movie star wanting to do tv.)  She happily accepted the role of mom on The Partridge Family.  She adds that a year prior, she’d been offered the role of Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, but turned it down as she didn’t want to play another bored, smiling housewife.  (How did I not know this?) 

But the idea of being television’s “first single working mother” on a show about a musical family excited her.  “Originally, I thought I was the one who would be singing the songs, but when David’s star took off, I didn’t mind at all.”

 Shirley shares a lot of Partridge lore that we’ve heard over the years.  (Susan Dey’s crush on David, his many female conquests, etc.)  She adds that when the ‘first Chris’ (bottom left) was let go after the first season for behavioral issues and replaced with Brian Forster for the remainder of the series, “we didn’t receive a single letter of inquiry or complaint”

She also writes of favorite guest stars (a very professional 11 year old Jodie Foster, Louis Gossett Jr, Rob Reiner as ‘Snake’) and guest stars she didn’t like--a drugged up Richard Pryor, Dick Clark of American Bandstand & Ray Bolger (the scarecrow from ‘Wizard of Oz’) who played her dad—and was a real diva.

What really surprised me though was her favorite episode, ‘Whale Song’—because she finally got her own solo.  Sorry Shirley, but this has to be the least favorite song of the series!  You can watch it here.

Shirley writes that Dave Madden (who played their agent Reuben Kincaid) was closest to Danny Bonaduce, but teased him constantly.  Dave once asked Danny if he knew why the two of them were even on the show.  “For laughs” Danny answered.  Dave said “No, it’s because we’re so ugly… look at Susan Dey, David Cassidy, Shirley Jones.  They’re the beautiful people.  They need us uglies to balance things out.” 

After the end of The Partridge Family (and Shirley’s marriage to Jack Cassidy) in 1974, she met & married Marty Ingels in 1977—much to all her son’s dismay.  Hmm, they don’t look so distraught to me…

Shirley ends her book by telling us that she & Marty are still very happily married; sadly, this book was published in 2013 and Marty Ingels died in 2015.

There’s a lot I’m leaving out of course, but here’s two things that kind of surprised me.  For one, towards the end of the book Shirley explains the importance of “self love” and not only when she does this (daily) but how she does it as well! 

Just when you thought you’ve seen and read it all...  Eye rolling smile

And finally, an amusing story Shirley shares from 1979, when she was given another television series Shirley.  She wasn’t expecting success on the scale of The Partridge Family, but was excited about being on weekly television again.  Famed producer Fred Silverman owned the show, and as filming began he excitedly told her on a daily basis how great she was and how thrilled the network was with what they were seeing—so she was surprised when she drove to the studio one morning and the guard at the gate told her to go home, her show had been canceled.  No calls, no nothing—I found out I was fired from a studio guard.

Soon after, Marty & I were having dinner at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel when all of a sudden I noticed Fred Silverman having dinner in one of the booths with three women.  I turned to Marty and said “That asshole!  I’m going to go over there and tell him exactly what I think!”  Marty turned chalk-white and said “Please Shirley, please don’t do that.”   But that’s exactly what I did!  And for once in all my years of marriage, I finally got to be the crazy person!

It was her only swear-word in the entire book.  Love you, Shirley!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Thinking out loud: Where do we (and where do I) go from here


A couple days ago, I did something on here I once promised I’d never do again—I deleted my last post.  And then I deleted the one before that.  It was a couple days after Donald Trump won the Presidential election and I was feeling stunned and angry (still am) but also naive, arrogant & despondent.  I just couldn’t stand looking at these posts anymore.


The first is from November 5 with a wink-nod to the ‘obvious’ victor (Hillary); and the second from the night of the election when the writing was on the wall

I confess I’ve been looking at this from two different viewpoints.  I worry what Trump and the GOP have in store for this country, but I’m scared for myself too.  If it hadn’t been for accessibility to affordable health insurance, I never would’ve left my job with UPMC.  (Though at the time, it didn’t feel like a choice.)  There’s a lot of talk about ‘repeal & replace’ of Obamacare, but no one knows what that means.  I don’t care what Trump claims, I have a feeling the repeal will come a lot sooner than the replace. 

I have a feeling there IS no replace.

(And after the year I’ve had with kidney stones & TMJ, with trips to 2 emergency rooms, I just can’t imagine going without.)

Frankly, I’m exhausted with all of it.  I’ve been trying to stay off Facebook, where a couple former classmates are overjoyed and happily rubbing Democrats noses in it; meanwhile, other Trumpeteers are giving long, tiresome speeches on how we should all be thinking and behaving.  Even the Hillary supporters are wearing me down, angrily pointing out over & over how we’re all fudged and “look what Trump is doing NOW”  as if it will make a difference.

I will say I’m trying my best to understand why things happened the way they did.  The more I hear & read of former miners, autoworkers & other blue collar workers not just wanting change but desperate for it, I get why they voted the way they did.  It helps with the anger some (mine, at least).  I just hope they’re not the ones who get punished most for choosing who they did. 

Click on the image below to sign this petition--hey ya never know, crazier things have happened!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Where have all the sofas gone, long time passing...

bonar floor

This is my current seating arrangement; my brother-in-law Jim’s daughter-in-law Jessica said “it looks cozy but I’m sure it’s uncomfortable”.  She sure got that right!  Okay, I know what you’re thinking:  Doug, what happened to the new couch you got for your new apartment?  It’s gone, and I have a sore butt as I’m typing this, and I couldn’t be happier.  (Well, I could be happier—if I had another couch.)  I suppose I should’ve said I couldn’t be more grateful.

In a nutshell, the new sofa was a shoddy piece of furniture and was torturing my legs & back.  After I decided I’d be moving closer to family and found this apartment, my sister & I was browsing the furniture department of the local Big Lots & she remarked the look of one particular sofa was something I’d probably like.  She was absolutely right; it was a modern earthy-olive tweed and in a sea of brown & black leather jumbo-couches, was almost calling to me.   I gave it a quick sit-down, felt a little discomfort but figured it just needed breaking in & handed the clerk my credit card.   (It sat in storage there for nearly 3 weeks, and then in my vacant apartment for another couple weeks, waiting for me to move in.)  And for the last 3 weeks, I perched on one end, or tried to ‘squish’ myself into it’s center, anywhere to find a spot that wasn’t torturing parts of my body after sitting on it more than 10 minutes.  

Cut to 3 days ago (and a very forgiving furniture manager and a very helpful landlord) and that… thing is out of here, and I got my money back.  So now what?  My sister Shawn & her husband Jim went furniture shopping with me yesterday, we went to not one but 4 furniture stores—and honestly, I pretty much disliked most of what I saw.  (All I want is something under 80” in length, two seat cushions instead of 3 and in an olive fabric.  Is that so much to ask?)

leekActually, I did find what I was looking for—sort of.  It’s 76” in length and available in olive.  But I’d have to order it online from West Elm, it’s non-refundable and delivery time is 8-10 weeks.  That’s a lot of hard-floor time for my backside!

I can’t help but be reminded of my last sofa buying experience.  In the spring of 2000, I’d grown tired of my blue leather sofa & sold it to my other sister Donda.  My mom and sisters drove up to the city to take me furniture shopping, and we walked into the furniture department of the local Lazarus store.  And right in front sat a dark green sofa; it was a little shorter in length than your average sofa, but had a deep, deep seat.  The salesclerk said “You can get it in a wide choice of colors and fabrics.”  No, this is good.  “You can get it in different sizes.”  Nope, this will do.  They delivered it a week later & it was my favorite spot to watch tv, eat, work from home & sleep for the next 16 years. 

I had it hauled away when I moved here—most of the springs were broken, the seat cushions were propped up with sheets of plywood & the back cushions were shedding feathers faster than I’ve been shedding my hair.  But right now, I sure would love to be sitting on it typing this!


My niece Sophia on her Uncle Doug’s extra-wide couch, 2008

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Be it ever so humble, welcome to Waynesburg Pa… and Bonar Avenue

 Well, here it is & here I am—typing from my new (well, new to me) apartment in Waynesburg, Pa.  My sister Shawn, her husband Jim & his older son Michael arrived at my place in Pittsburgh this past Friday with a U-Haul, and thanks to their very generous help, by Sunday morning there wasn’t a moving carton, bag or tool in sight. 

There’s still plenty to do, as the walls are mostly bare and I need to find a new armchair for the living room.  But the hard part is done, and I can’t thank Jim & Shawn enough.  I’m in their debt, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their help.








Steps leading upstairs to my apartment; the first door on the right is mine; hmm, nice artwork in the hallways—just like apartment buildings on tv!

Here’s some pics of the place so far—it’s certainly not one of your more modern apartments, but I suppose it has a kitschy charm all it’s own. The owners seem kind and honest, and take great pride in the property. 


No more digital thermostats!  When I asked Sue (my landlord) how I adjust the heat this winter, she said “you turn the knob on your radiators on or off”


One of the two “industrial” bookcases my brother-in-law Jim assembled for me; doesn’t it look great?   (The other one is in the bedroom.)


My new couch was waiting for me the morning I moved in, thanks to my landlord who went to the furniture store & picked it up for me  


My galley kitchen, and a gas range--that’s a first for me


My new table & chairs from IKEA—I’m going back this weekend to get some seat cushions


I’m really digging the green-tile & pedestal sink, this puts my bath in Pittsburgh to shame


The bedroom, my sister’s favorite room in the apartment—I’m not doing it justice, it’s twice as wide as seen here, with a closet, dresser & second window on the opposite side

What’s ironic about moving here is how the other tenants see me; at my former place in Pittsburgh, the building had been overtaken by millennials, who regarded myself & three other tenants (Bill, Jim & Theresa) as the “old timers”.  Here, I’m currently the youngest tenant--as several of my new neighbors have let me know.  “Oh, you’re the young man from the city!” 

Yep, that’s me.  Smile

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twelve days and counting until the big move… glad but a little sad to see the old place go

This past Friday I was on the phone with Verizon, terminating my phone & internet effective the last week of September.  Unlike my other utilities which took all of 10 minutes to cancel, Verizon wasn’t letting me go that easily.  (They told me they couldn’t do a thing without my account number, which I didn’t have as my bill has been auto-paid thru my bank for the past several years; when I finally found an old paper bill, I discovered it was my phone number!  They couldn’t have told me that upfront?!)  Douglas, are you sure you want to do this??  Yes.  You don’t want to move your services to your new address??  No.  We hate to lose your business, you’ve been at this phone number since October 1, 1994.  Wait, 1994?  I’ve been in this apartment even longer than I thought.

Before moving here, I lived farther outside the city in Sharpsburg.  Our main street had no less than 13 bars, and a Stop N’ Go directly across from my place had the distinction of being the most-robbed convenience store in Allegheny County.  I had a wooden balcony you couldn’t go out on (it was black from being on the main drag) and a little laundry room (with no washer, only a dryer & laundry sink where I washed all my clothes out by hand).  Still, it was my first apartment in the city and man, I loved it.

Sharpsburg apt

The Sharpsburg apartment, 1989-1994; it sure was blue!

I had so much fun there; I did my share of dating, and my sister Shawn visited every other weekend.  And then one day I came home from work to find a Sheriff’s Notice on the front door; the other tenant & myself were being evicted.  The owner (a compulsive gambler) had not been making tax or mortgage payments on the property, and been served with a foreclosure notice.  When I shared the bad news with my office, my IT manager suggested I move to Bellevue.  Dougie it has a movie theater, grocery store, banks, shopping—you can walk to everything.  (I didn’t drive at the time so that was a big plus.)  “It’s also a dry town, not a bar for miles.”  I was sold.

I made appointments to see a couple apartments for rent (both basement setups & big let-downs) but it was after checking out the second one that I saw Monroe Apts over the hillside, and told my friend Elisa (who’d grown up in the area and was tagging along) that’s where I wanted to live.  I said “I’m going to be just like Mary Richards, who left her apartment house on Weatherly and moved into a high-rise closer to the city!”  Elisa said “Who’s Mary Richards?”



My current place on Monroe (before I got my flat-screen tv and some other things)


And here I’ve been, ever since.  I’m a little excited, a little nervous but I’m ready to move on.  To be honest, I’ve been ready for awhile--the building changed ownership several years ago, from a private owner who screened tenants carefully and took great care maintaining the property, to the current slumlords who’ve let the place go downhill.

Still, for what it’s worth… it was a good run.  Smile

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Living outside the box: well, for a few weeks more at least


It’s only been a couple weeks since my last post, but in that time it seems like so much has been happening.   In a nutshell, in between medical appointments for this TMJ disorder I’ve been getting my sh-t together for my big move back to my hometown at the end of September.  I’m sitting here in a half empty apartment as I type, much of who I am in stacks of boxes and eating off a paper plate because my dishes are all packed.  I still can’t believe this is really happening, it’s just that up until a month ago I didn’t see myself going anywhere.  This place has been my home for 20 years, hermit-routine included.

Still… I’ve known for awhile now that something had to happen.  As my time away from the hustle n’ bustle of my former working-life stretched past the one year mark and into the second, I was beginning to have some real disquieting feelings.  Having a routine you’re comfortable with is one thing, but this Fortress of Solitude was closing in on me and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.  I wouldn’t wish this godawful TMJ crap on my worst enemy (really—I wouldn’t) but it was probably the catalyst I needed to make a real change.

I’ll be honest here & admit I’m not head over heels in love with the new place—it’s somewhat dated, and has no patio.  It comes with some strict rules (they don’t want a lot of holes in the walls) and being so far from the city, no more free tv—I’m back in Comcast’s pricey cable clutches.  But it’s a well cared for apartment building, on a quiet tree-lined street.  I’ll live just minutes from my family (and my sister has a fine front porch).  I could do worse.

It’s surprising how much a single person can accumulate in just a couple rooms when they’ve lived in one place for 20+ years, and if it wasn’t for my sister Shawn and my brother-in-law Jim, this wouldn’t be happening.  Not only have they made the long drive up here, over & over again to cart out things that WON’T be going with me to my next place (heavy bookcases, a giant microwave, artwork, a glass-top dining table & chairs) my sister helped me go thru piles of clothes and books, even carting & giving much of it away herself (while storing the heavier items for an annual yard sale event back home).  Mostly while I stood here here slack-jawed (pun intended) watching her go, go, go. 

Even my new landlord has gotten in on the act—he picked up my new couch from the furniture store and deposited it in my new place.  “Doug, we have your name on the buzzer downstairs and your mailbox; now all it needs is you & your things!”

I think it will feel like home in no time at all.  Smile

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Waiting to come out from the shadows, & be myself again


I’ve been holding off writing, but only because I was waiting for everything to be right & normal again.  But more & more I’m wondering when that time will come, so I’m just going to share things now.  The past 25 days have not been good ones, and in fact it surprises me to type that, because it seems like it’s been going on for so much longer.

This is by no means entertaining (for you or myself) but I just need to get this out of my system… if not the pain, the words at least.

Here’s a timeline of what’s been going on.

Wednesday, July 20:  I’m sitting here in my apartment, folding laundry when I suddenly have a sensation, more like a spinning jolt of pain in my lower left jaw.  What in the world was that??  I called my dentist’s office right away:  “Do you guys remember that crown I broke on my back molar on May 29 that you cemented back on?  I think something’s going on with it…”   They told me to come in the following morning so the doctor could have a look. 

The following day he checks it out:  “Doug, it looks good to me.”  I tell him there’s an aching numbness there now, and in my teeth in the upper jaw too.  “Doug, we can’t do anything until the pain localizes.  Wait a couple days for that to happen, and come back.”   I wait, but now this ‘pain of sorts’ is in my right jaw too.   When I return that Friday & tell him, he says “I don’t think it’s a teeth issue, Doug.  Referred pain from a tooth can bounce to other teeth—but only top to bottom & vice-versa.  It DOESN’T travel to the other side of the jaw.  Go home & take some ibuprofen, I’m sure it’ll be fine in a couple days.”   It wasn’t, and I spent that weekend in a very anxious state, convinced my teeth had all abcessed while rubbing my gums with Anbesol every half hour.  Dammit, I’m a walking infection—I just know it!

Monday, July 25:  I return to the dentist and plead with him to take x-rays of my left jaw (I’ll worry about the right side later).  I’m convinced he’ll see a spider-web of evil poison circulating there, oh he’s going to be sorry he didn’t believe me during my first visit!  No such luck.  He returns with the x-rays, tells me he sees nothing but teeth that have been root canaled & crowned with no underlying infection; but if I REALLY want someone to dig around in there, he can recommend a good endodontist.  I return home & google my symptoms and read up on what endodontists do (and it doesn’t sound pretty).  But now I’m dealing with a lot of sinus pressure too, so much it feels like someone punched me in the face; and waitaminute, it says right here that a sinus infection puts a lot of pressure on the upper jaw, making the person think they have a toothache.  (Okay, this started in my lower jaw, and I have zero nasal congestion, but that’s beside the point.)  All I need is some good antiobiotics to clear this sinus infection right up.  I happily relate my self-diagnosis to my sister Shawn & schedule an appointment with my PCP.   Oh this pressure on my teeth, ears & eyes is driving me crazy… sweet relief is only days away.

Thursday, July 28:  It’s my first visit to a doctor’s office in over 10 years.  The doctor (a younger woman in her early 30s) sees me right away & I make sure & let her know I’ve spent the last year doing all the right things & lost 50 lbs to date.  She congratulates me, asks me a load of questions about my family’s medical history, then tells me to describe my symptoms.  As I do, she is typing on her computer.  (Um… aren’t you going to examine me?)  She finally looks up & says “Sounds like a sinus infection, I’m sending prescriptions for antiobiotics & steroid nasal spray to your pharmacy.  If you don’t feel better in 5 days, let me know.”  Hooray!  

As the days pass, I take the amoxycillin-clav as prescribed & inject Flonase into my sinuses, but the discomfort is constant; no change.  Consumed with worry, I can’t sleep; I have no appetite & tell my sister I suspect this isn’t a sinus infection after all.  She sadly agrees. 

Monday, August 1:  I call my PCP’s office & tell them I’m not any better.  “Doug, you’re going to have to see an ENT—ear, nose & throat doctor.  Do you want to come back in, or would you rather skip the middle-man and go directly to the specialist?”  I opt for the latter, I’ve lost faith in this PCP.  I find an ENT that accepts my insurance & they schedule me to come in the following week.  But I tell them I’m in absolute misery, can they PLEASE see me sooner.  “Doug we do have one opening tomorrow, but it’s in Aspinwall, not the office near you.  Do you still want it?”  I have no idea how I’ll get there, but YES, I’m feeling desperate.

Tuesday, August 2:  Thanks to my friend Danielle (who arranges my ride there via Uber) I’m at the ENT.  I explain the symptoms (facial & jaw pain, constant pressure in my ears & sinuses but no congestion) and he examines my ears and throat, then tells me to prepare for some discomfort and runs a tube into my nose.  “You don’t have any sinus infection, and furthermore, I don’t appreciate these general practitioners who prescribe antibiotics for every person who complains of sinus pressure.  I suspect you have TMD.  In the meantime, I’m going to prescribe a 6 day medpack of methylprednisolone, it’s a steroid for severe inflammation.  On the first day, take all 6 pills together, early in the morning because they tend to make some people a bit jittery.”   Thanks Doc.  So what is TMD?

I come home & tell my sister about the steroids he’s prescribed.  She questions my taking them, tells me they’re heavy duty and come with some scary side effects.  She then says “DONT TAKE THEM.”  I agree to hold off until I can talk to the doctor.

Wednesday, August 3:  The ENT tells me I’ll be fine, begin taking them tomorrow.  I tell my sister I have no choice, the constant pain & pressure in my jaw & face is becoming too much to bear.

Thursday, August 4:  I had zero sleep the night before; I mean none.  Around 6am, I decide to stop twisting & turning, get out of bed and wonder at this medpack.  I’ve been reading up a lot on this condition, TMJ (or TMD)--temporomandibular joint disorder the past few nights, and so much is not known about the condition.  Some people suffer with it for weeks, others months or even years.  There’s no ‘real’ treatment, but plenty of TMJ specialists who claim they can treat it with steroid injections, $2,000 custom mouth splints & thousands more in dental work.  (And there’s 5 times as many people on various medical forums who share stories of having all this done, and still no relief in their suffering, or even worse off than before.)  None of this is helping with my anxiety.  

The official TMJ site stresses that you should avoid such invasive procedures, and that for 80% of sufferers, the symptoms eventually disappear on their own.  They recommend soft foods, lots of ibuprofen & as little stress as possible as it aggravates the condition.  The pain is compounded because of the anxiety involved, which feeds the disorder & vice versa.  Experts theorize how it comes about—trauma to the jaw, arthritis, a bad bite—but no one knows for certain.  For many, it appears randomly.

I’ve had enough.  I take the first 6 pills from the medpack, and then make a cup of coffee.  Immediately, an enormous, hot pain washes down over my face.  Something is wrong, very wrong.  I sit here, waiting for it to pass.  It doesn’t.  I call the ENT’s office and leave a message that if someone doesn’t get back to me right away, I’m going to the emergency room.  Surprisingly, someone returns my call & says she’s contacted the doctor, who told her “that isn’t a side effect of the medpack.”  RIIIIGHT!  She then says the doctor will be ordering some CT scans, someone will call me when they’re ready to see me.  I ask how long that will be.  She says “I’m guessing sometime next week.”  I tell her nevermind, I’m going to the ER.

I call my sister Shawn & tell her what’s happening.  It’s her day off, and she very generously offers to drive to Pittsburgh and take me to the ER herself.  I feel awful for accepting, but truth be told, I WANT HER HERE.  While waiting for her to come, I pack an overnight bag with shirts and underwear.  Either the hospital admits me or I head home with Shawn for a few days.  I’ve had it, I’m tired of dealing with this alone.

A couple hours later Shawn arrives (and one stressful trip later) we’re in the ER.  Personally I think this is how ALL medical visits should work; they put me into a bed, ask lots of questions, do an EKG, draw blood & pump me with sedatives while the doctor informs me I’ll be getting some CT scans.  (I’m later diagnosed with the dreaded TMJ-TMD.)  I’m feeling a little more clear-headed now, and as this all plays out, my sister (who has remained by my side throughout) makes the case as to why I should consider leaving the city & find an apartment back home.  I admit it, a year ago I would’ve argued why that wasn’t a good idea, but now the idea couldn’t please me more.  I felt both relieved & fortunate to have my sister there, to know someone loves me that much, and that I don’t have to be so alone anymore.  

The hospital released me that night, and I did go home with Shawn & spent the next few days sitting on her porch swing with a very sore jaw & doing a lot of thinking.  In that time, we even managed to look at a few apartments, and it looks like I WILL be moving back home soon, the end of September (when my lease runs out here).  I even bought a new couch.   And since returning to Pittsburgh this week, I’ve had 3 sessions with a chiropractor who believes he can help.  To be honest, I have my doubts; I had a calm night last night, but as I sit here typing this now.. nevermind.

I won’t sugarcoat the moving experience either, so far it’s been stressful & tiring as I go thru 20+ years of accumulated stuff while taking frequent breaks to ice my face.  I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed & anxious, but I KNOW it’s the right decision. 

I just want to be be happier & excited about it… and my old self again.  Thanks for letting me share, hopefully I’ll have good things to say soon.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The bows & arrows of not so outrageous fortunes: making that first year’s withdrawal

a Doug and his money

Six months ago, I had a lot to think about; it had been one year since my final paycheck, and plans for the first withdrawal from my stock portfolio were on hold, due to the market’s historic nosedive right on New Years Day 2016.  Luckily, I still had several months of living expenses in my checking account and was able to hold out awhile longer, hoping for some decent recovery in the stock market.

So I watched & waited, and when Wall Street looked a little rosier around the first of April, I took a closer look at my own finances: 

  • ***** in personal checking
  • ***** in savings 
  • $445,000 in personal & retirement investments

When I left my job in December 2014, my stock portfolio was $447,000.  (I hoped it would grow & be closer to 500K when I was ready to begin withdrawals.)  Not only did it do zilch that first year, but on 1/1/2016 it was 435,000--12K lower.  But that’s the breaks, so after holding out for 3 months my portfolio made some gains closer to that Dec 2014 balance and I prepared for my first sale of stocks. 

I knew I’d need at least 21K to live on for one year & figured on earning about $4,500 in dividend & interest income in 2016.  Would I be safe withdrawing 17K?   

(This was a far cry from the amount I estimated paying myself a couple years ago, but the last year has shown me I need to take a much more conservative approach.) 

When it comes to making annual withdrawals from your retirement portfolio, there’s so many trains of thought.  I liked this one best:

Withdraw 4% of your portfolio’s balance every year or 95% of last year’s recommended withdrawal, whichever is greater.

I created an excel worksheet that crunches the numbers, all I have to do is enter the portfolio’s yearly balance in Col B, when I’m ready to make that annual withdrawal.  

Col C will display 95% of the previous years withdrawal;  Col D will calculate 4% of the portfolio’s current value.  I’ll then enter in Col E the greater value of C or D.


So that’s what I did—sort of.  According to my chart, I was ‘authorized’ to take $17,800 from my portfolio.  But the preceding 15 months had been rocky and it just seemed like a lot to cash out, so I only withdrew 16K instead.

To be honest, I regretted taking even that; why did I cash that out in one sitting?  Why not take 8K now & another 8K six months from now?  Or 4K quarterly?  That money could’ve stayed in the market vs. sitting in my checking account gathering dust.   I wished I could put some of it back.

And then along came Brexit…

Last Friday when Great Britain rocked the world with their vote to leave the European Union and investors panicked the world over, I watched my own portfolio plunge in value & shrugged my shoulders—what can you do.  I was good until 2017 anyway.

The following Monday as the bloodbath continued (the Dow had now sunk almost 1000 points)  I visited a couple investor forums I frequent, and so-called retirement veterans were warning “get out of stocks, go all in cash, this could last a couple years”.  I smelled temporary insanity.  

It’s scary to buy when everyone is selling, but I hadn’t seen prices this low in a couple years so…  the $16,000 I’d withdrawn from my portfolio… I put $5,000 of it back in.

Date          Transaction                                                                                     Amount

06/27/2016 BUY 100.73 shares Total Stock Mrkt Idx Adm $49.64 per share    $5,000.00

Those 100 shares I bought for $49.64 are now worth $55.00 each, and yes their price will go up & down & up again, but the important thing is, I was able to put some of that wampum back into the swim, and at a LOW PRICE.

Doesn’t this all sound like a major pain?  Sometimes I think I’d sleep better if I’d just kept on working… or stuck my money in a safer place!   The End!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Into each life some rain must fall… but I’d appreciate it if it didn’t fall into my car too

I did it—after all these years, I switched my auto insurance.  Bright & early Monday morning, I contacted Metromile and said I was ready to give their “pay by the mile” insurance a go.   My personal sales rep (Evan) said “Doug, great choice—you won’t be sorry!  We’ll get your Metro Pulse (the mileage tracker you plug into your car) in Express mail today, you’ll be covered effective Wednesday, June 29.”

So the morning of Wednesday June 29 (that would be yesterday) I climbed into my car & drove to the car wash.  I pulled into the next to last stall when I remembered the last time here, another customer had warned me this stall was dry for a reason, the hose was ‘flukey’.   As I’m backing out to get into the next one, the hose hanging overhead catches on my sideview mirror and it’s nozzle somehow whiplashed into my car’s back glass, smashing thru. 

I didn’t know what hit me, I thought someone had shot my rear window out.  I jerked to a stop in front of the rusty Problem?  Call 412-… sign by the coin machine, fumbled for a pen from my glove compartment and scribbled the number down on my hand.  I then took a deep breath and drove home as carefully as possible, as glass pebbles shook from my hair & from that jagged hole into my backseat.

When I got home & pulled into my parking space, ran upstairs and tried calling that number on my hand (and got no answer, I let it ring 30-40 times).  I then called my sister Shawn, while Mr. Winn (the Korean who lives up the hall) pounded on my door shouting “Neighbor!  Someone smash your car!”

I then called Safelight Auto expecting to hear “We’re on our way!” just like in the commercials--nope, the soonest they can get here is... Friday??  (But they did give me a better quote than I expected, $314.00 including cleanup & mobile service.)  I headed back downstairs with my camera & some towels, trash bags and packing tape, and prayed for no rain.

wounded warrior


That windshield sun-shade that’s been hiding in my trunk for the last 10 years has finally found some use.  As I laid it across, the rest of the pulverized glass gave way



After (Friday): 

Safelight’s expert repair, I couldn’t have asked for a more professional service.  After he left, I grabbed a couple buckets & gave the car some much needed TLC

So after all this, I come back upstairs to my apartment (to wait for the police to show up and arrest me for leaving the scene of an accident) and there’s a small brown package resting against the bottom of my front door—it’s from Metromile. 

The Metromile Pulse, my ‘Big Brother’ tracker.

I come inside, my answering machine is blinking.  Hi Douglas, Evan from Metromile!  Your Pulse was just delivered, get it plugged into your car right away & don’t get into any accidents your first day!  Ha ha, just kidding Doug… stay safe!


I can feel my pulse