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Too much stuff (and pain), not enough time

I had no choice — I went dressed as Frankenstein’s monster for Halloween.

Frankly, it was a matter of my gait: plodding, stiff, my body lacking any pliability or elasticity.

It was either the monster or a giant tongue depressor and I knew the latter would draw nothing but questions and then groans with delivery of the answer.

Had I listened to the calculating voice of the universe (the one that reminds me that I’m in my 40s and my body doesn’t bounce back like it once did), I would have more costume choices.

But no, I live with the delusions of a middle-aged man denying that the timeline has moved substantially to the right. When I shave, the face that looks back at me is that of an eighteen year old, still puckish and arrogant, gray hair, receding hairline and wrinkles veiled by my inability to admit that several decades have passed since the Sex Pistols tore Rock and Roll a new one.

Looking in the mirror is like seeing myself in a 20-year old photograph. Ignoring the goofy haircut and the gawdawful clothes, I see no discrepancy between the boy then and the boy now.

My body, however, is the cruel voice of reason, reminding me that my perception is the hoax of time.

About three weeks ago, with the construction of my house down to the final details, I decided to landscape my driveway with about five tons of very big rocks (unwittingly donated by the Highlands Lagoon project). Those very big rocks were loaded into the back of my truck and then placed along the perimeter of the driveway as a hedge against erosion.

The boy saw no harm in moving rocks the size of small engine blocks (much less removing them from the PAWSD dump site); time awaited patiently with the self-satisfied hum of “Uh huh, I told you so.”

The deluded middle-aged man thought of nothing else but the beer waiting at the end of the day.

Really, whatever conversation transpired between the three was disconnected and incoherent, the lunch break chatter at the Tower of Babel.

At the end of the day, while the boy and the deluded middle-aged man shared a couple of beers, time ticked away, awaiting the inevitable, like a cartoon time bomb.

Time redeemed itself this week as a dull, throbbing and excruciating pain radiated from the center of my lower back and shot down my right leg. The return of my sciatica.

The first attack of sciatica hit years ago, when Eldest was a toddler. I spent some time after work chasing her around the yard then tossing her into the air and catching her. Suddenly, a big, big pain hit my lower back. Enough for today, sweetie, I said, then found myself lying on the floor of the living room, nearly in tears.

It reduced me to an immobile blob and I had to be carried into the emergency room. All the doctors could do was prescribe pain killers, muscle relaxers and a week of bed rest.

Which is about all that can be done. Chiropractors can’t help and I’m not enthralled by the endless appointments for “readjustments” — it seems like psychotherapy; there’s no escape and no healing.

After weeks of continued pain, I tried acupuncture. I have to say that the needles helped: the pain was eliminated. However, the sciatica never really went away and it is, I’m convinced , with me forever.

The recent recurrence has been with me for over a week — forever, in terms of tolerance.

Early last week, I became aware of little spasms erupting as I moved throughout my day. Like the little boy whistling past the graveyard, I brushed off the signs, ignoring the symptoms of an inevitable complete breakdown.

By late last week, the whistling had stopped as that long, large nerve caught fire. By then, every chair looked like a medieval torture device, every distance to cross resembled 40 days in the desert.

The only mitigation is lying flat on my back as I impatiently await the effects of the ibuprofen.

Unfortunately, with the completion of the house as close as it is, there is packing to be done and, as much as I just wanted to lie flat on my back and think about how to school the boy, the bulk of our household needed to be packaged up and prepared for our imminent move.

Given my condition, I’d have bet my house that 4-out-of-5 doctors surveyed don’t recommend packing boxes as a means to rehabilitate a bad back, fewer still would prescribe having those boxes filled with the essentials: books and music.

One of the benefits of moving is that it forces us to reassess the extent of our materialism. Faced with having to haul the accumulated detritus of our lives to a new location, we suddenly become parsimonious and discriminating, immediately endowed with Solomonic wisdom.

As far as household items, the first question asked is how long ago (if ever) was it last used. If never, or if not for a very long time, the next question raised then is: is there any intention of ever using it or ever using it again. Limited utility consigns the item to the boxes bound for the thrift store.

Then, there are the items that have not worked for some time and while I’ve been determined to fix them at some point, I’ve just never found the time. There’s the old Pentium III PC that I’m certain is simply in need of a power supply — a process that should take all of an hour (remove old PS, install new PS, hook up monitor , keyboard and mouse, test). If it works, it goes to the kids. It’s been sitting idle and broken for over two years due to my fear that I’ll put in that hour’s worth of work only to find out the motherboard has curled its toes.

If it works, I’ll have to reformat the hard drive (to erase some questionable downloads), reload the operating system and load a few dozen games compatible with Win98 and minimal CPU and RAM capacity.

Unfortunately, it’s not something I can just throw in a Dumpster.

Likewise, several pieces of stereo equipment that, I’m positive, just need a spot of solder or grafted wires — if FUBAR, they can’t (or shouldn’t) be landfill bound and I have to make special arrangements for their disposal. Yet, the prospect of moving them is a questionable proposition. A strict logician, I swallow hard to accept the logistics.

Then, there’s the matter of the ’68 VW Beetle that’s been sitting idle for nearly three years, for want of a flywheel — a $50 part. If I buy that part (online, of course), attach it, add a new alternator belt, reattach the battery ground (and recharge the battery), change the oil, adjust the valves and add new fuel, the thing will run like a charm ... until the next part goes out.

I’ve had that bug for over 20 years and it has carried me throughout Colorado, sometimes on baling wire and duct tape. However, we’ve been through too much together for me to sell her and it’s always been my intention to restore her completely, making her the first car for eldest daughter.

No trashing that, it’s coming with us with the determination to bring her in the garage next summer and get her road worthy.

Apparently, the process of simplifying my life is theoretically practical but, in actual practice, akin to asking me what organs I want to sell off.

Books require even more thought. I’m a big believer that my family needs a library, books we can pore over at our leisure, scribble notes in the margins and cherish as works that have changed our lives.

Then there are the books that I need to read but have not yet found the time, the books that I have read and bear rereading and the books that my children must read, once they’re old enough (to crib from Italo Calvino, somewhat). All of those have been packed into beer case boxes, small enough to prevent a serious strain on the box.

There are the books that, for whatever reason, have managed to hang in there despite not having any particular sentimental or literary value. Weeding through those and bound for the thrift store (with me wondering who in their right mind would want to purchase them), I figure I’m not really saving my back — after all, I have to pack them out and drop them with the thrift store. It’s a matter of space, really, and a dearth of shelf space.

The real battle with books resides with my children. Eldest sorts through hers and passes those she’s outgrown to Middle Child who, in turn, has her work load almost doubled: sorting through the ones she’s outgrown as well as deciding which ones inherited from Eldest that she wants to keep.

At the bottom of the food chain, Mister catches all the castoffs. Nancy Drew, American Girl and any number of Pony books won’t do: his tastes are with Captain Underpants, Tin-Tin and anything Marvel or DC Comics. Although he is just approaching the challenges of what they refer to as “chapter books,” he won’t accept anything that strikes him as boring or, worse yet, “girl books” (to which he applies a rather broad brush).

Yet, I’m amazed at the extent of each child’s sentiment. Middle Child won’t let go of “Goodnight, Moon” (a constant read for her when she was two) nor anything Blue’s Clues. Mister refuses to jettison any Dr. Suess even though he can pretty much recite the prose word-for-word. Eldest has saved every science book she’s ever read, including those geared towards the preschool level.

What has resulted is a slender collection destined for the thrift store. And more strain on my back.

However, considering my own inability to weed out CDs, my cavil regarding childhood nostalgia is disingenuous.

Literally, thousands of CDs, much heavier than books, have been packed and saved. For most of them, I think, I should have burned to my hard drive and dumped onto my iPod.

Like I’ve had time for that.

More than that, however, is the sheer physical sensation of holding James Brown or Bach or Dave Brubeck in my hands. As essential as my pod is to me and my sanity, once a cut is transferred to it, that cut seems to exist in some parallel universe where it is merely a string of computer code.

I must be something of a luddite: for whatever reason, an album residing on my iPod is less substantial than the album taking up shelf space, CD racks taking up floor space. A testament to my unwillingness to transition to the new millennium.

Thus, my back continues to pay the price of my inability to let go of the last vestiges of my younger years.

Again — I look in the mirror and the face there belongs to a snotty adolescent who listens to loud, obnoxious music and reads too many books. That adolescent doesn’t give a damn about the old man’s back: just get it done, he says, and crank it up as loud as it goes.

And if you think that hurts, old man, try getting rid of “On the Road” and you’ll find out what real pain can be.

Too much stuff and not enough time. Too many decisions to make and not enough ibuprofen to support them.

jim@pagosasun.com