Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And now for the real question...

Is a Chop't salad really healthy when you have it delivered and can't control how much vinaigrette they bathe it in? Seriously, I tried to order chicken, corn, tomato, light on the pepper jack, iceberg and vinaigrette, and the salad looked like it had been greased up for a muscle mag photo layout. It was like eating Arnold Schwartzeneggar's bicep circa 1979:


I'm not asking our "health food" restaurants to make it easy on me, but it would be GREAT if they wouldn't make it harder.

And no, that was not me whom you just saw running through Times Square, chasing the corpulent Iowa family that had just come out of the M&Ms store.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A few years ago, at a family gathering, a cousin-in-law said to me, “I’ve always wondered what it must have been like growing up with your father. He’s like a Marine. He’s so strict.”

My response: “Really, it’s just the crew cut.”

But I get that all the time about my Dad. People have this image of him that’s kind of ludicrous, mostly because of his haircut. It’s probably inaccurate to most actual Marines too, but just to make one thing clear right here: my father has not been in any branch of the military. Ever. He went in for his draft physical during the 1950s and was summarily tossed, because he’d had rheumatic fever twice as a child.

So really, it is just a haircut, not a personal statement, and he’s had it since he was five. I would have to say that seventy years later, that cut has served him pretty well all these years. Plus, there’s no worrying about Rogaine or that bald spot at the back of your head when it’s a crew cut.

Not that my Dad has ever been the kind of guy who’d worry about a bald spot, because more than anyone I know, my Dad seems to be profoundly comfortable in his own skin (note to self: be more like Dad, stop saving up for Botox injections). I wrote last month about my Mom and how she and I both have issues with it not being easy “being green.” My Dad would be the guy most likely to say, “yeah, I’m green. Anyone who can’t deal with me being green…that’s their problem, not mine” or, maybe even more likely, “am I green?”...shrug…”hadn’t noticed.”

Another thing about my Dad: he has a bionic heart. He’s all heart. And I mean that literally and figuratively. Dad may well have been the last kid in America to have rheumatic fever and although he doesn’t talk about how difficult it was or how serious it was, a few years ago – while my Mom and I were waiting with my Uncle Andy in the waiting room of St. Francis Hospital as my Dad underwent his second heart valve replacement (courtesy of the childhood rheumatic fever, he has two artificial heart valves, a pacemaker, and an awesome cardiologist with a God Complex), Uncle Andy told us about how when my Dad was seven or eight, and going through his second bout of rheumatic fever, the other kids in the family pushed him around in a baby carriage while on summer vacation up in Massachusetts because he didn’t have the leg strength to walk.

That’s not the story my father tells about the rheumatic fever, and I have a feeling if I asked him about it he would probably again shrug his shoulders and say “had to get around somehow.” He also might say that Uncle Andy is getting senile and it wasn’t my Dad in the carriage, but Uncle Bob, who was two at the time. (One never knows with some of these seventysomethings what is real and what is someone else’s story). The story Dad tells about the rheumatic fever is that after he recovered, the doctors didn’t want him to play sports. He was banned from playing football; Dad gave in on football and was the waterboy for the football team, but he also decided to run EVERYWHERE. He ran to the store. He ran to school. He ran in the gym and played basketball and baseball despite the doctors’ qualms. He ran, because, as he tells me, “I was going to run or I was going to die trying.”

I think that’s a motto that he lived by from that day forward – and it’s one I wish I lived by more – because Dad accomplished more in his corner of the world than almost anyone I know. Not only did he thumb his nose at the doctors and play sports, but once he hit adulthood (having run around and NOT died trying), he ended up teaching (where he met my Mom), getting a doctoral degree, officiating football, being a regional superintendent, the mayor of Garden City, and a deacon at Church. And the thing is, despite accomplishing all this, I know that Dad gave up a lot for Mom and me, and also held himself back because of concerns about his health, too (example: he had an “IN CASE OF DEATH” file in his file cabinet, as he was prepared to die very young, and he wanted Mom and I to know exactly what to do “IN CASE OF DEATH.” Let me tell you how weird it was to see that file behind the soccer coaching file…). He wanted to be a School Superintendent, instead of maxing out at Assistant Super, and if you know anything about Long Island school politics, you have to leave, be a Superintendent somewhere upstate or out-of-state, and then come back in a blaze of glory to Long Island in the number one job. (I know, it’s hard to put Long Island and “blaze of glory” in the same sentence unless the sentence also involves Mike Bossy, but there you have it.)

Usually, you hear about men who are high achievers like that and then the stories come pouring out about how they didn’t spend enough time with their family. Not so my Dad, because Dad also was the coach of my softball team for all the years I played, stood on the sidelines of all my soccer games, picked me up at the ice rink on the way home from work after my Mom dropped me off, suited me up when I decided to give ice hockey a try (and even – along with Mom – was obliging enough to hide my pigtails in my helmet lest any of the boys know there was a girl on the ice), drove my teenage friends and I into Lincoln Center every weekend when we decided that it would be a good idea to get season tickets (wait, sports term – subscription seats) to ABT, and even suffered through more than one rock concert as the go-to chaperone Dad during my teen years. Actually, come to think of it, he was often the one who waited on line for tickets, back in the olden days of “you have to wait on line at Ticketmaster.”

My Dad has also always had a strong sense of what is right and the self-discipline to do what is right. Maybe this is where the “Marine” thing comes in – and if it’s so, it would be nice if EVERYONE were mistaken for a Marine -- but one of the great things about Dad is that I don’t think NOT living up to his commitments and obligations ever even crosses his mind. (Sidebar on the self-discipline: my Dad can take a bit of a Milky Way Dark, enjoy it, and then leave the rest of the bar to eat A DAY OR TWO LATER. Ok, maybe that goes past self-discipline into pathology.)

And now I’m starting to get annoyed at myself with this blog because I feel like I’m not saying what I wanted to say about my Dad. I haven’t even touched on his amazing sense of humor… So let me finish with a story that maybe makes a start at summing up who my Dad really is….and then I can go and beat myself up for not doing well enough with this blog posting in peace.

Almost a decade ago, my family went through a really dark period – the kind of medical storm that could only happen -- and has happened, repeatedly -- to my parents. My dad had to have surgery to repair a hernia, which was apparently done in the hospital barn by Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, as it immediately became infected with three different bacteria and required a second surgery to fix. While all this was going on, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy. My mother’s surgeon, upon hearing that my father was walking around with a post-surgical infection, flipped out and said she’d either have to delay my mom’s surgery (we wouldn’t hear of it) or my Mom and my Dad couldn’t be in the same place, couldn’t touch the same towels, couldn’t be anywhere near each other, until one of their surgical wounds had completely closed.

Well, there’s a challenge.

Of course, Dad’s doctors thought Mom’s surgeon was being hysterical (she was, after all, a woman…), but they had no choice but to go along. So Dad was farmed out to my uncle’s apartment in the village while my Mom came back to the house. Dad considered himself well enough to drive at that point (I seem to remember that his doctors did not agree), but every day while he was “banned from the ranch” he drove over and stood outside the back window of the kitchen, hernia wound packed and bandaged and taped, talking to my Mom at the kitchen table, just to make sure she was managing.

Every day.

Because that’s who my Dad is. He’s someone who understands that courage, loyalty, faith, love, a sense of humor, and the self-discipline to do what is right are just about the only weapons you’ve got, and the only choices you really have – other than quitting, which isn’t really an option – are to run or die trying. If that makes him strict and Marine-like, well, Semper Fi.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
I couldn’t be happier or more blessed that you’re my Dad, and I love you!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Few Words on the Bestest Mom in the World

Happy Mother's Day, everybody, but mostly Happy Mother's Day to my Mom.

Some of you all know my Mom, and a lot of you don't, but I thought I'd take a minute to sing her praises today. Those of you who know my Mom usually tell me that she's one of the sweetest and kindest people you've ever met.

This is true.

But what you don't know about Mom -- but that I do know -- is that she's also she's one of the toughest and most uncomplaining people you'll ever meet. Mom's had cancer twice -- once as a young woman in the 1960s (when the cure for kidney cancer was "ok, kidney's out, now cross your fingers for five years"...which I guess is still the cure for kidney cancer) and more recently in 2003 when she had double breast cancer (yep, unrelated cancers on both sides, which her doctor said is something you may see in one of 10,000 women with breast cancer...so my Mom is also unique!). She also has fibromyalgia, developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy from a wrist fracture, and is one of the millions of women who have felt the side effects of anti-cancer drugs like Arimidex, which does a yeoman's job preventing breast cancer recurrence but also destroys your joints (and hey, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, you're brilliant and all but instead of running those obnoxious radio ads that basically say it's your own fault if you die of cancer unless you get treated at Memorial, how about you spend that money instead on researching a second generation drug that doesn't have these side efx?). So it's hard for Mom to get around these days -- she travels with a walker and long distance walks are a no-go.

Personally, I would probably handle all that with a decades-long sulk. And alcohol. And mind-altering drugs. But I've never heard Mom complain, and I've never smelled alcohol on her breath (she will roll her eyes at me for that comment). Here's an example of how my Mom handles it: a few years ago, my Dad nearly died after what should have been minor surgery but turned into major malpractice. He was in three different hospitals for over 100 days, with myriad doctors visits in between. Hospitals, ironically, are incredibly unfriendly places for people with movement limitations...which is perhaps something, given that they are HOSPITALS, they should work on. But Mom, physical limitations, pain, and all, picked up her cane and walked those long hallways every day to go visit Dad. And, of course, when the doctors were bullshitting (sorry, Mom) wildly about how great my Dad was doing (a hard case to make as Dad at the time thought there were fuzzy orange birds flying around the room and named Gerald Ford as our current president), she managed to be kind to them and get the answers she needed all at once. A lesser person (me), was calling them incompetent and leaving notes, requesting that they call me, on business cards that said "Carter Anne McGowan, ESQ." in big letters.

Another thing you probably don't know about my Mom is, well, pretty much everything. A lot of people think that my Mom doesn't talk much. Usually, those people are McGowans. If you're not a McGowan, you probably don't understand the extraordinary wisdom of "not talking much" at McGowan gatherings as the general rule of such get-togethers is "S/he who shouts loudest has the floor." Mom just shrugs and knows that there's no way she's shouting loudest, as she wasn't born into this cantankerous tribe. What I would hate is for anyone to think that this means my Mom has nothing to say or does nothing that you should want to hear about. So, since she won't shout loudest, I -- being born into this McGowan tribe -- shall:

1. Mom's smarter than all of us and can talk circles around everyone when it comes to current politics (Do not ask her how much she likes Obama. No. Just don't.) She's also one of the best teachers on the planet. She taught English, French, Spanish, Latin, History and...I feel like I'm missing something. She used to be the teacher who would change up what classes and subjects she taught every year or two because she'd get bored teaching the same thing. Mom turned all that teaching heavy artillery onto me as a kid, and I started playing "Kitchen Classroom" with her when I was about three. By the time I was reading on a second grade reading level, before kindergarten, she figured she ought to pull back. But I think both my Dad and I will acknowledge that had Mom been born in a different era, it is not Hilary Clinton who would be Sec State, but Mom, and just so you know, Mom, all of those hours in the Kitchen Classroom set the stage for any of my later academic accomplishments. So, thanks Mom.

2. Mom was an extraordinary pianist. The physical ailments she has now have taken that away from her, but I remember "The Revolutionary Etude" thundering through the house when I was a kid (I'd hide under the bed with the dog) and wouldn't come out until she started playing "It's Not That Easy Being Green," which was one of her favorite pieces but it always made me a little sad. I didn't get it then, but I kind of think Mom always felt like she was the "green sheep" (or frog, I guess, if we're talking Kermit), in her family. Probably also a little bit around Dad and me. Mom was also an actress in college. She changed her major from theatre to Spanish and History when she realized that the theatre people were (her words) "just too strange." (Oh, how I wish I had internalized this one before about the age of 40 :)) So, the art, the culture, the theatre in the house -- things that became my career - thanks, Mom. I think. (Kidding!) And I always feel like a green sheep too (not kidding!), so you're not green alone.

3. Mom is the most creative person I know. She can sew like nobody's business, she has created fantastic quilts, and she makes blankets for Project Linus. She made the most extraordinary dresses for me when I was a little girl, and she continued to make them for my goddaughter, Graceanne. She even made dresses and sent them away to little girls in a poor community in Appalachia. On behalf of all of those girls, all the kids in Project Linus, Graceanne, and me, thanks Mom. (Although I still am a particular fan of the "reffy" outfit she made me when I was two -- Dad officiated football on the weekends and I wanted a matching ref suit).

4. Mom's always got the time to hear about somebody else's problems. She's a classy lady of the kind they don't make and we don't value as much as we should anymore (much to our severe detriment). Even I don't value that as much as I should sometimes. I'm sorry, Mom (and we'll probably continue to argue over whether a comb would do my hair better than a brush :)), but to be completely honest, in so many ways I wish I could be more like you.

I could (and should) keep going although I have a feeling that blogspot is going to call quits on a blog post of this length. So let me wrap:

I've always had the feeling that Mom gave up a lot in her life to make a good home for Dad and for me, as Dad and I tended to run around like crazed rabbits multitasking work and hobbies within an inch of our lives while Mom served as the air traffic controller (one of the good ones, not like the ones who fall asleep in the tower). Maybe my feelings about Mom having given up a lot come from me being born in the 1970s and having a wholly different world to look at. Because if you look at the body of this post, it's all about doing things for others, which is how my Mom has lived her whole life.

Because, and no slight to Dad because I'm sure he would agree, she's also the most loving person I know.

Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother's Day, and I love you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hmm. I have not blogged since I left Alaska almost 10 months ago. My narcissismometer must have been running on low.
Let's rectify that, shall we?
Let's talk about:

Yes, I know, he looks more than a little like the creepy neighbor to whom you gave a wide berth every Halloween of your childhood. I agree that there's something "Larry, Darryl, and my other brother Darryl" about him. (10 points if you're old enough to remember what that's from.)

But don't hate on the guy because he looks a little car-up-on-blocks-in-the-front-yard (he's actually probably better than you at very many things. And he could probably lift that car off you with his bare hands). And don't hate on him because he's named Dwayne...which is also a little Deliverance. Dwayne here, who would be doing himself a giant favor if he lost the mullet in the off-season, is the ridiculously hot goalie for the Tampa Bay Lighting. And I mean "hot" in a sportscaster sense, not hot in a "I'm-Trish-the-Dish-in-section-119-who-sits-above-the-visiting-player-runway-and-doesn't-wear-panties" sort of way (Not kidding. She exists, or existed. She's probably a little, erm, "rode-hard-put-away-wet' looking by now. And women like her are the reason, my friends, why it's difficult for women like me to get ahead in sports. BUT I DIGRESS...). He has a playoff save percentage of, I don't know, .9999938 or something and a goals against average of, I don't know, 0.0000038 or something, and:


Holla if you're relieved there's SOMEONE older than you are still playing professional sports.

Because I'm a lazy git who suffers severely from attention deficit disorder while at work, which leads me to spend hours googling random goalie trivia, different variations of the Luxor games, and html codes for strikethrough curious sort of person by nature, I thought I'd look into exactly what allows Roli to play at what Glenn Healy on HNIC has assured us is "such an advanced age." And excuse me for a moment, Glenn, while I get my trifocals so I can continue typing. (HEALY'S 49! HE SHOULD TALK - ed.) (And while talking former Islander goalies/current on-air talent on HNIC, Hrudey's 50 and a better commentator, but ever since the day 12-year-old me chased 22-year-old Kelly Hrudey across the Cantiague Park parking lot to get his autograph, I have thought that he too really needs to get a better handle on his hair. -CAM)

Anyway, according to USA Today, Roloson (1) has a trainer named Prohaska. Ok, check, I have a trainer named Nowicki. Prohaska - Nowicki, both tough sounding names. Roloson (2) "calls his trainer to ask him what he can do to work out when he's on vacation at the beach with his family." Hey, catch this, people: I'm going to Orlando on business tomorrow and -- wait for it -- I'M BRINGING MY SNEAKERS. So I'm gonna give myself another check. Roloson (3) "never misses a workout. He never misses a stretching session. He shows up for extra workouts. He is so consistent with his eating and so consistent with his training that it has paid off in his later years."

Holla if you just put down the Ring Ding you were eating while reading (or typing, as the case may be) this. And then shrugged and picked it up again because you figured it was too late in these "later years" to start being consistent with your eating and training.

But seriously folks...this is kind of inspiring stuff, isn't it? Roli for AARP President. Roli for A Million Fans on Facebook. At least Roli for Masterton, no? Maybe as I slug through another day arguing with myself about whether my ever-expanding middle-aged butt needs that gazillion calorie Starbucks non-coffee coffee or whether I'm going to go to the gym after work or head straight home to sit on the couch and watch Top Chef, or whether I really ever will land my Axel again at forty, I should just take a second and think about the work ethic of a guy who nobody even thought was good enough to DRAFT to play in the NHL but is now putting on quite a show at an age when most of his "betters" are long retired. Then perhaps I should put the designer coffee down and the treadmill speed up.

Now please, Roli, don't throw your back out or anything.