Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Milking the home improvement theme

There's lots of dust flying at the 19 Minutes homestead these days. My wife and I live in a 1925 prairie bungalow, which is - according to the experts I've interviewed for this feature - architecture-speak for "small, old house." One of the selling points to the house, as we saw it a little more than a year ago, was that it was seemingly in pretty good shape.

And it is in pretty good shape. But as with all 82-year-old houses, there are some things that need work. Unfortunately, in the case of our house, it's often hard to find these things, because they're covered in eighteen layers of paint. (Sometimes, in fact, we find the parts are constructed solely of paint.) Apparently, the standard home improvement model employed by the last several home owners was from the Paint Over It-school - a school, I'll concede, I belonged to until recently.

(Actually, as a long-time apartment renter, I belonged to a related school - the Spackle Over It-school, or more frequently, the Plug Holes in the Wall with Toothpaste-school.)

As a result, my wife, who is definitely the Tom Silva of our marriage, spends much of her free time with the heat gun, peeling the eighteen layers of paint, and the power sander, dealing with the aftermath. Mostly, I stand by with the fire extinguisher, in case we accidentally set the house on fire, which has only happened once. Her latest project has been to restore the milk delivery door (or possibly, the ice delivery door) on the side of the house to its former working condition.

She had removed the door last week, stripped the paint, repaired, the wood, and repainted it. But over the holiday weekend, we added the power sander to her arsenal. This thrilled her so much, she re-sanded the door and repainted it. I entered the picture when it came time to remount the door in the frame, which meant I could finally demonstrate my home improvement expertise, namely knowing the word "shim." But after installing the hardware, placing it in the door frame, finding out that the door wouldn't close, and reinstalling the hardware, the milk/ice/book depository door is in working condition, probably for the first time in fifty years.

To celebrate, we're considering signing up for one of the area's actual milk delivery services. They, of course, provide customers with a delivery box for milk.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Scar & Buyer

Here in southeastern Wisconsin, those of us with digital cable television not only get your major networks (CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN), your major network's close relatives (ESPN 2, C-SPAN 3, BBC America, the Fox Soccer Channel), your minor networks (Fuel, Logo, American Life?), and your minor home shopping networks (the Product Information Network? The Celebrity Shopping Network?), but we also have the exciting opportunity to watch home listings, 24 hours a day. It's sort of like a shopping channel, only the products tend to run a few dollars more than "simulated gemstone" jewelry.

And yet, the network, operated by Shorewest, a local real estate company, is oddly mesmerizing. That's partly because it's entertaining to hear the same vaguely insipid phrases used repeatedly over the course of a half-hour ("There's a place for everything in the eat-in kitchen...", "An artifical fireplace flanked by bookcases creates a dramatic focal point...")

But invariably, we end up watching it whenever - as we did this weekend - we have out of town visitors staying with us. For a while, my wife and I thought it was just a channel-surfing quirk: it's an odd channel, and there are lots of pictures of the unique diversity of homes in the region. But it dawns on me that the real estate prices, as much as the architecture, are something of a tourist attraction in this part of the world. Houses here are not the cheapest in the country. What they are is normal; what most of us in Generation X grew up accustomed to. Smaller and/or cruddier houses are less expensive - like dilapidated houses in bad neighborhood. And larger and/or nicer houses are -- get this - more expensive. Nice houses on lakes, say.

It's not a radical concept, or at least it doesn't seem like it. But several of the places we've lived in the past have experimented with another model - they've decided that all houses should be expensive. Thus, Shorewest TV at 11:30 p.m. Maybe not as cool as the Calatrava, but unique nevertheless.

And finally this evening, we at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters would like to apologize to anyone whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the picture of my surgical scar posted on this feature several days ago. I thought it was a fairly innocuous, yet accurate representation of the strange little line that now makes its way up my abdomen. My wife, however, points out that it makes my belly button look like a softball.

So tonight, we'll try again, but instead of doing my own stunts, we're going to turn things over to an actor's portrayal, starring Lyndon Johnson as Mitch Teich:

Overall, I'd say it's an Oscar-worthy performance, and all I can say is I wish I'd thought of holding a press conference to show off my scar.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Drivers' re-education

It was an exciting evening yesterday in the garage of the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, as we got our driving privileges back after six weeks, in which the closest we'd come to driving was changing the CD (currently playing: "The Backyardigans - Groove to the Music"). They were never - technically - revoked, but we figured there are enough naturally bad drivers in the greater Milwaukee area that there didn't need to be a percocet-fueled, artificially bad driver on the roads, too. Not this one, anyway. But we're down to just trace amounts of the painkiller in our system, and so we elected not to take advantage of my wife, who has been the official 19 Minutes chauffeur for the past six weeks, for last night's drive across town.

We're a little ashamed to admit that it was a bit intimidating, partly because we're not yet used to the feel of driving in boxers and we were a tad worried that it might be, er, distracting. (I'm sorry, officer. No, I don't know how fast I was going. I was, uh, making an adjustment.) More to the point (so to speak), or, to be brief, everything - since the surgery - has seemed faster and louder. Or maybe we've felt slower and quieter. Probably both. Like we're listening to a Chipmunks single at 33 r.p.m. , and it takes a minute to realize that something's different.

[Note to young readers: that's a reference to records, which were the things that came before eight-track tapes, which were the things that came before cassettes, which were the things that came before CDs, which were the things that came before you started getting all your music for free from Dave, down the hall. Nowadays, your best hope for seeing records is to go to a 1950s-themed restaurant and look for circular wax things hanging from the ceiling. Or, check out a cabinet in the house I grew up in and look for a thin black object with a label reading, "'Convoy', by C.W. McCall". ]

And throw us onto an interstate, and everything seems really fast. More than a few times in the past six weeks, we've ridden along in the passenger seat and had to close our eyes for the onramp from Highway 41. We considered trying that yesterday, but the ramp was still metered at that hour, and we were even more concerned about that potential conversation with the arresting officer than the boxers one.

So we set out, with our eyes open and our boxers on, across southeastern Wisconsin. We've written about what's wrong with Milwaukee-area drivers in the past, namely that they're aspiring to be as bad as Chicago-area drivers, plus they're holding a bratwurst in one hand, a cigarette in the other, all the while dialing a cell phone and apparently trying read the serial number on the bumper of the car in front of them.

Fortunately for the sake of future driving adventures, but unfortunately for the purposes of this blog, nothing especially interesting transpired on the highways of southeast Wisconsin last night. We made it there and back with our car intact, and no need for new boxers when we got home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


There are apparently two kinds of people in the world. Or, at least, two kinds of readers of this fine feature:
  1. People who read the previous post and wanted to see pictures of the spiffy pants I've acquired. I'm not sure what bizarre turn of world events has occurred that would lead me to post a link to a picture of my pants, but here you go.
  2. People who read the previous post and who were disappointed that the reference to "show[ing] off my scar" linked not to a picture of my scar, but to an article about the pop singer Anastacia, and her very own Crohn's-related scar. If you aren't one of those people who wanted to see the scar, you might want to avoid scrolling much further.
I'm still trying to figure out the whole scar business. Thirty-eight years is a long time to get used to your real estate looking a certain way. On the other hand, after five days in the hospital and a month at home, you figure there ought to be some kind of visual proof that I had more than a hangnail removed. And as one nurse pointed out (at 4:15 a.m., no less), it's probably better that I have a scar and no internal damage than no scar and a lot of internal damage.

But it's a doozy. My surgeon (who, you'll recall, described what came out of me as a "football-sized kielbasa"), thought it was ten inches long. Even allowing for a couple of turns, I measure it at more like eight or eight-and-a-half. Anyway, I am not the only member of the family who doesn't necessarily look forward to getting into a swimsuit this summer.

Still, it's going to stick around, and so I ought to get used to it. I have noticed, for example, that when you add the belly button, it looks, just vaguely, like the old flag of the Soviet Union. But in my case, I'm sickle no longer.

All right. Because you asked.

Monday, May 21, 2007

No shirt, no shoes, no mental energy

My time away from the office has given me an opportunity to devote considerable mental energy to a variety of pursuits, such as the unfairness of forcing "The Price Is Right" contestants to guess the price of a collection of books.

But it's also forced me to reconsider my connection to the world of fashion. (Or, rather, "fashion.") That's mainly because for the moment, wearing a belt or heavy-duty elastic in close proximity to a nine-inch abdominal scar is only slightly less painful than holding a belt sander to the same place. So, I've made a few modifications to the wardrobe:
  1. Boxers. It's a different feeling, to be sure.
  2. Pants with a half-elastic waistband. But more significantly;
  3. I have recently procured a pair of pants that have been labeled "stylish." This was purely an accident. My sense of style has been described as "schlep," ever since my 10th grade history teacher, Mr. Schultz, declared, "Mitch? You're a schlep." The new pair of pants feature both linen fabric and a drawstring. They were on sale. They - as noted - have been described as "fashionable," a label that will hold until I spill mustard on them.
So it's a different look. At least below the waist. As for the top, I'm thinking of looking for something different. Maybe I'll take a cue from the entertainment world and go for a little something that shows off my scar.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Land of 10,000 steps

So I had a month away from work. I had envisioned this month as a period in which I'd spend a lot of time in bed at first, gradually increasing my activity level, so that by the time I was ready to return to work, I'd be comfortable having my wife drive me to work, and I'd be able to walk from the car into my office. Then, I could show off my scar.

As it happened, my "Days Spent Mainly In Bed" scoreboard never ticked higher than "1" - the day of my surgery. By the time I left the hospital, I'd worn a path around the North Tower of Froedtert Lutheran Memorial Hospital, which conveniently has a large square circuit path that leads through the cardiac unit and through some of the public areas of the hospital, a fact I had to keep reminding myself as I adjusted the bag attached to my catheter.

But the point is, from the time I made it home, I was already at the stage of my recovery in which I was ready to Increase My Activity Level. As anyone who has faced a potentially long recovery can tell you, it's important to have an environment that makes it easy, even pleasurable, to exercise. Fortunately, my neighborhood is just such a place - lots of pleasant, tree-lined sidewalks, blocks of moderate length, and - most importantly - a donut shop just a quarter-mile walk from my house.

Especially at first, a quarter-mile was the perfect distance -- just long enough that (after major surgery) I was pleasantly winded by the time I got there, and in need of a nice, donut-eating breather. And likewise, the walk back was just long enough to leave me pleasantly winded and in need of a comfortable couch by the time I got home. Plus, I could justify the donuts as long as I was getting in that half-mile roundtrip walk.

The walk also put me in better touch with my neighborhood and its people, whom I can now divide into three groups: People with kids whom my wife and daughter know from various playgroups and other activities; People with kids whom I recognize from the donut shop; and people without kids whom neither my wife nor I knows.

(The problem is, I'm usually unable to distinguish the first two groups from each other. Typically, I'll be sitting in the donut shop, and I'll see a woman - sometimes a man and a woman - with a couple of kids, and I'll recognize them, but have no earthly idea whether I've been introduced to them, or whether I recognize them just because I've recognized them before. They all recognize me, of course. I'm the weird guy staring at them in the donut shop as though I recognize them.)

But sooner or later, that situation was going to end, unless my employer allowed me to produce my radio show from the donut shop. So without the quarter mile trip to Cranky Al's to inspire me, I needed a new gauge for my recuperative progress. So I've employed the services of a $5.99 pedometer from Target.

The medical, or at least the pedometer, industry believes you should walk at least 10,000 steps a day to reap the benefits of walking as exercise. My trusty pedometer helped me close in on that goal in two key ways:
  1. I've learned that my walk to the bus in the morning is about a half-mile, or around 3100 steps.
  2. The pedometer was so sensitive that crossing my legs while sitting at my desk generally registered as a step, and I apparently cross and recross my legs roughly 1100 times every day.
You'll notice I've switched to the past-tense. This is because in a tragic turn of events this morning, my pedometer fell into my cup of coffee and has suddenly became not sensitive at all, even less sensitive than guys in beer commercials.

In a staggering bit of frugality, I've taken it apart and put it back together several times, and I am pleased to report it no longer is non-functional as a result of falling into my coffee. It is non-functional as a result of my taking it apart and putting it back together so many times.

So I will be forced to find another way to chart the progress of my recovery. And thankfully downtown Milwaukee affords several opportunities - Dunkin' Donuts outlets at 2700 and 3300 steps from my office.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Sens-ational recuperation

Well, plenty has happened since there was activity in this space. There was, of course, the matter of the "football-sized kielbasa" (as my surgeon put it) that was removed from my abdomen. (And yes, you know you've had abdominal surgery in Wisconsin when your surgeon uses a comparison that includes both football and sausages.) That large object was otherwise known as "half of my colon," or "what had been tormenting my digestion for the past twenty years or so."

You would think that having your plumbing rerouted after thirty-eight years would mean bizarre dietary restrictions for some time after the surgery. You'd be right, but only to the extent that bagels were good and cucumbers were bad. We went out for Chinese food the night I left the hospital. (In retrospect, that may have been pushing the envelope a bit.)

But before I recap the life-changing past six weeks or so in this space, we must discuss an event of more profound proportions.

I'm not sure how my life - or the lives of many of us -- evolved to the point that the actions of men with bats, balls, and gloves, or sticks, pucks, and helmets on a television screen can move me to tears. I mean, the whole time in the hospital, I received not one get-well card from the Ottawa Senators.

But for the last ten years, my mental health, between approximately September and June, has been inextricably linked to - let's face it - an obscure hockey team from a place most Americans couldn't find on a map, even if it was a map of Ottawa. More than once, I've worn my Senators jacket in public, only to have someone come up and say, "The Senators! That's pretty neat. It's so cool that Washington has a baseball team again."

For the seven years I lived in Arizona, I dutifully showed up in Phoenix whenever the Senators played the Coyotes. There were always about twenty Sens fans at those games, and whenever the Senators scored, our "Whooo-hooos!" resounded through the arena like the cheers of Harold Stassen supporters at the Republican National Convention.

So the Senators play hockey. They have stars named "Alfredsson" and "Redden" and "Spezza "and "lesser" known players named "Corvo" and "McAmmond" and "Preissing". The one player that casual hockey fans have probably heard of is Dany Heatley, and that's only because he was involved in a reckless crash in his sports car a few years ago that killed a teammate.
What I'm saying is, you've never heard of most of them. And truth be told, if I wasn't an overly zealous Senators fan, I wouldn't, either.

And yet, for some reason, for the past decade, whenever the Senators win a game, I'm one - maybe two - iotas happier for the next 24 hours. And for most of that time, the Senators have won far more times than they've lost. But in each of the seasons they've reached the playoffs - the last nine years in a row - their season has ended with a loss. And usually an agonizing, annoying, and, well, cruddy loss. They've never had the puck bounce off a live lobster in a luxury suite and into their own goal, but it's been close.

This afternoon, the Senators beat the Buffalo Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since the team joined the National Hockey League in 1992.

They may well end this season with a loss, too. But today's game kind of makes up for the missing get-well card.