Where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and the little things we lost along the way.
I often find myself reminiscing about tasks and pastimes that we enjoyed from the past and the technology that allowed us to do so. It’s fun to mock the innovations we thought were so cool at the time, but I also noticed with every step forward we often lose a little something along the way.
Today I’d like you to join me down memory lane as we look back on how we used to purchase and consume recorded music.
Disclaimer: By the time I was old enough to get interested in music, records already had one foot in the grave, so they were just barely before my time. I enjoyed my collection of kids records as a young lad, but by the time I headed out into the world to buy the latest hits with my allowance money, I was headed for the tape section. For this reason, you’ll have to excuse the omission of vinyl records, 8 track tapes, and any other media from the 70s and earlier, since I have no personal experience with these. If you have any insights into these, please share in the comments below.
What Made Tapes Great
The obvious advantage tapes had over records was portability. For the first time you could hit the streets with your tunes via a boom box or personal tape player with headphones. Feeling fancy when buying that new car? Forget the standard AM/FM radio and tick the option box for that tape deck upgrade.
And unlike those pesky records, you could use cassettes to record everything from your favorite songs on the radio to your own acapella version of Debbie Gibson’s latest using the mic on your Sanyo. Can’t find the words to express your love for Bobby Sue? Only a custom mixed tape will do. Envious of Bobby Jean’s collection of Merle Haggard tapes? Enter the dual cassette deck for some old fashioned copyright infringement.
Remember the little tab that gets broken off for preventing accidental recording? Remember slapping a piece of masking tape over that little square so you could use your Mom’s old and neglected aerobics tape to record Casey Kasem’s American Top 40? Sure you do. There was just something special about that little rectangle of plastic and the magic spool of magnetic goodness within. Just ask any Phish fan or Deadhead about their collection of bootleg tapes when you have an hour to kill.
What Made Tapes Bad
Hiss. What’s that, a snake? Nope, it’s what you hear in between tracks on that new Def Leppard album. Even with advancements in different tape formats and new tape player technologies, sound quality was always an issue with tapes that we begrudgingly accepted. And the more we played them, the more we recorded over them – every fast forward and every rewind – our tapes slowly died and sounded worse with time. Tapes grew brittle and broke. They unwound and got stuck and tangled in the guts of our stereo. We carefully wound them tight with a pencil and patched them with scotch tape, dreaming of a day when no cassette left on the floor would get smashed to pieces by the clumsy feet of our little brother.
And then there was trying to fast forward or rewind to get to your favorite song. Trying to time the button pushing just right without careening into oncoming traffic. Sure, you could get one of those fancy new car stereos that could detect the gaps in between songs automatically, but money doesn’t grow on trees. Time never moved more slowly than when you’re standing there in a towel dripping wet, waiting for your favorite tape to finish rewinding so you can press play and get ready for school.
And don’t get me started on that tape you carelessly tossed on the dash while you ran into County Seat for some choice 501 button fly jeans. A few minutes in the baking sun was enough for Adam Ant to sound like Adam Drunk and Sleepy Ant after the tape got warped.
The compact music disc was a miracle of technology straight from the future. Suddenly we went back to something that looked like a record but was a fraction of the size and got played with lasers instead of needles. Lasers! We could buy three dozen for a nickel from Columbia House and hang them from our rear view mirrors to blind other motorists.
What made CDs Great
If you’re like me, you’ll remember the first time you heard a CD. It wasn’t just the lack of tape hiss or scratches from a record. It was a whole new era of sound quality and clarity that we never thought was possible outside of a concert hall.
Don’t care for track 2? A simple push of the button blasts you to the next song. No longer were we slaves to rewinds and fast forwards. Think you know better than that coke-fueled music producer? CD players let us decide which tracks we wanted to listen to and in what order. Take that, The Man. That magic button labeled shuffle allowed us that rush of triumph when we correctly guessed which song was coming up next.
As compact disc technology aged like fine wine, we purchased CD changers with carousels and cassettes, holding five or more discs at once. We played DJ at parties while furiously programming tracks and taking request. We loaded up the CD changers in the trunks of our cars and never looked back at jankey road trip mixed tapes.
What made CDs Bad
Like their vinyl ancestors, compact discs were a bit delicate, and quite frankly, mysterious. I for one enjoyed CDs so scratched up they looked like somebody took a belt sander to them with no problems. And yet another disc with barely a nick or thumbprint would skip like crazy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve wasted precious months of my life spent breathing on CDs and gently rubbing them with my t-shirt.
CDs were expensive. The going rate for a standard pop cassette tape from 1988 to 1990 was $9.98, while their CD siblings cost $14.99 or more. That was a lot of dough back in the day for an album that you weren’t guaranteed to love. And while you could easily dub a copy of your friends latest New Kids on the Block tape, this sort of shady practice couldn’t be replicated in the early days of the compact disc until computer CD burners became affordable.
When CDs hit the market, many music lovers were hit with a dilemma of choice shoved in their face by new technology. Do I hold onto my vast collection of tapes and continue to buy them new or do I make the switch to CDs for all future purchases? What about all my favorite tapes? Will I take out a home equity loan to replace them all with plastic discs? I for one struggled with this crisis after I purchased my first CD player, losing all desire to listen to my crappy tapes yet too poor to replace them with discs.
Of course, this isn’t unique to CDs replacing cassette tapes. We would face the same Sophie’s Choice regarding Beta and VHS. VHS and DVD. DVD and Blueray. Anytime progress regarding physical media is made there will always be painful transition periods.
And finally, what was up with those weird long boxes at the store?
For this section we’ll focus on any digital device that played music from the likes of the iPod, Zune, and dozens of other personal music players that used various types of file formats. Let’s lump them all together and label them “MP3 Player.”
What Made MP3 Players Great
Despite what Apple would want you to believe, Steve Jobs didn’t invent MP3 players when the iPod came out in 2001. Various companies such as Diamond, Creative, Nomad, Archos and others, all threw their hats in the rings in the late 90s with various music players that ditched physical media.
For the first time, we were able to attach these gadgets to our computers and load them up with songs. Storage was paltry at first, but as the iPod and its competitors fought for consumer dollars and new storage technologies blossomed, we soon had the ability to hold hundreds and even thousands of songs in a device smaller and lighter than a pack of Merit Ultra Lights.
My first MP3 player was a Creative MuVo TX FM 128 MB model (pictured above), basically a USB thumb drive with an LCD display that plugged into a little battery pack. And it was awesome. It boasted all the features of a CD player yet wouldn’t skip even if you grappled it like a Shake Weight. It even had a FM tuner (that I didn’t use)! I eventually stepped up to various generations of the Microsoft Zune before finally ditching a standalone play for a smart phone.
One of the best things about MP3 players along with the personal computer was our ability to rip our purchased CDs into MP3 format and store them on our computers and players. We no longer had to worry about scratched and lost discs once our favorite songs were turned into ones and zeros.
And during these heady early days of the MP3 Player came along a little Internet phenomenon you may of heard of called Napster. Along with it’s cousins Limewire and Kazaa, morally loose consumers had literally thousands of songs at their fingers tips available for free (i.e. stolen and totally illegal). Personal music libraries soared overnight and we enjoyed them on our MP3 players.
What Made MP3 Players Bad
Arguably, Napster would have happened without MP3 players, but the explosion of pirated music in the early 2000s went hand in hand with our iPods. The music industry was flipped on its head as execs figured out a way to get us back in the stores to drop fifteen bucks on a CD.
Although I loved my MuVo back in the day, 128 MB of storage didn’t go far, only a few CDs worth. Dragging and dropping, deleting and sorting, was a common task for me as I decided what tunes made the cut that day. Even when I stepped up to my Zunes, I never had enough space to hold my entire music collection.
Without a computer, most of the early MP3 players were useless. A PC with a USB port was the only way to load up our devices and sometimes the software we were forced to use was less than stellar. iTunes for Windows comes to mind.
Then there was the constant temptation of new devices that hit the market. Flash memory prices were on a steady decline and just when you dropped a few bucks on a new MP3 player, the company would release a new model with double the capacity for practically the same price.
Smart Phones and Streaming
Which brings us to today, with our smartphones and streaming services. With most of our songs living in the cloud, storage anxiety is a thing of the past. With thousands of songs available to stream for around ten bucks a month, we have no reason to rip off music from shady file sharing sites. In the meantime, algorithms are paying attention to what we’re listening to and suggesting artists based on our tastes. It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come since my bought my first Boston cassette from Kohls Department Store.
What We’ve Lost
As far as technological advances go, we often lose a little along the way in the wake of progress.
Nobody can deny the convenience of clicking a button and downloading a new album in seconds, but what we lost along the way was the experience of the Music Store. Whether it was Sam Goody at the mall or that independent record shop with the geriatric hippy behind the counter, the music store wasn’t only a place to shop, it was an activity. Flipping through stacks of records or CDs with your friends was something to do. Finding that rare import EP was exciting. Rushing to the store on release day of that highly anticipated album was an event.
Sure, there are some used music stores still floating around, but the damage is done. I for one haven’t purchased a physical piece of recorded music from a store with walls in a decade, at least.
Album Art & Inserts
The best part of coming home with that new CD clutched in your hands? Removing the shrink wrap (which was designed to be way more difficult than it should have been, if you ask me), cracking open that pristine plastic case, and flipping through the CD insert. If you were lucky, hopefully it would be filled with cool illustrations and photos of the artist. Pages of lyrics for every song? Jackpot! And don’t forget about that last page of people the band wish to thank, where it was recorded, and what brand of instruments everybody played. This was the stuff us super fans geeked out over before Wikipedia and YouTube gave us our fill.
When I was in High School my friend Sack had a huge wooden case on his wall that held hundreds of his cassette tapes. And Sack was mighty proud of that collection he’d acquired over the years. Personally, I enjoyed arranging, rearranging and categorizing my tapes and CDs by artist name, release date, alphabetical order, etc. A music collection was something you tended to like a garden. Even slipping all your compact discs into one of those binders gave you a little rush of endorphins as you flipped through the pages taking in all the different designs, typefaces, and colors.
The Sweet Stereo
When I started working in High School I was finally able to ditch the hand me down boom box and started purchasing components for my dream stereo (to the best of my meager earning ability). I started off with a receiver here, a tape deck and CD player there, and finally the Pièce de résistance, the kick ass Infinity speakers I could barely afford and still miss to this day.
Like our record, tape, and CD collections, we were proud of our stereo systems, always looking to add one more component or step up to speakers the size of a refrigerator. Sure, it’s still possible today, but a majority of us listen to tunes over our Bluetooth headphones from our phone or some wireless speaker courtesy of Alexa or Google.
Same goes for our cars. The factory installed sound system in my no-frills 2012 Ford produces sound that would have required hundreds or even thousands of dollars’ worth of upgrades 20 years ago. This is a good thing, I will freely admit. But I sort of miss the old days of subwoofers that took up entire hatchbacks, equalizers hanging below dashboards, and stereo face plates that pop off so you can take them with you to deter theft. Stock car stereos in the twentieth century were shit. Those who spent the time and money upgrading them into something special did so with pride and filled those who couldn’t with envy.
Listening as an Activity
This last point may not be universally agreed upon, but it certain rings true for me. I don’t just sit and listen to music anymore. And I mean just listen to music as an activity. I almost always have my earbuds in as I’m working in the yard or cleaning the house. The music is on in my car because I’m using it to get to someplace else.
When I was a poor college student, I’d slide in a CD, plop down in my chair, and just listen to music. Maybe I’d read along with the lyrics, or daydream that I was Alex Lifeson, but I didn’t do anything because there wasn’t anything else to do. I didn’t have a TV, iPad, Xbox, smartphone or any of the other gazillion things competing for our attention these days.
Even if I sat down tonight and started playing some music on my home theater, which sounds great by the way and I still never do it, it would be just a matter of time before my hand drifted over to my phone or I started wondering what was new on Netflix.
Although I do yearn for the good old days from time to time, it is amazing how far technology has taken us over the decades. I for one am looking forward to firing up my head chip years from now to pipe some classic rock directly to my ear canals under the close watch of our robot overlords.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books. Rumor has it that Alex Lifeson is his biggest fan.
My new book, Blackhawk Blues, was originally published as two separate books meant to be part of a long running series, the Bowman Chronicles. In a moment of poor decision making, I came up with confusing titles with even more confusing book covers. They didn’t convey what this series was about: a raunchy teen comedy set in 1990.
I decided to ditch the series (for now) and repackaged both books into one stand-alone novel, with some significant changes along the way. Enjoy!
I was browsing for books today on Amazon and I noticed a lot of the covers had something in common. I can't quite put my finger on what it is exactly...
As I turn 45 years old next week, I felt it was time to reflect on what's important as I hit middle age. I've always enjoyed setting goals for myself, so I sat down and came up fifty things I want to do before I die. As seen on television.
In no particular order:
So that's my list. What's on yours? Comment below!
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and believes 45 is the new 5. He can get dressed all by himself and count to 100.
I'm happy to announce the release of my latest book, Ascension: A Science Fiction Novella. So...yeah. Read it! I guess I ran out of words getting this thing done. Enjoy! https://amzn.to/2FxOmoQ
Kindle only for now. Paperback and audio in the near future.
My son died on a Monday. Mondays have an annoying habit of repeating themselves every seven days or so and as a result each occurrence is like a slap in the face. An unneeded and unwelcome reminder, since there is no danger of me ever forgetting, thank you very much.
Eventually Mondays lost their edge and my wife and I would notice a Monday here and there slip by where our every waking thought wasn’t dominated by that Monday. In the meantime, the third of each month got its turn to poke us on the shoulder and hey don’t forget your son is dead and don’t forget you could’ve done something to prevent it if only you could go back in time and do things differently and oh yeah make sure you don’t forget about your other son who is still alive and also hurting and how can you be sure you’re not a terrible parent who fucked up your kid somehow and you deserve this?
But I digress.
As you may have guessed, Holden died on the third Monday of the month. April 3rd, 2017 to be exact. I wish I could give you the precise time, but unfortunately we’ll never know for sure. Even his death certificate issued by the state of Wisconsin can’t help us there. Every one of the forty-nine fields on the form from his middle name to social security number is spot on, with the exception of field number 33 which lists TIME OF DEATH (24hr): 17:40 (ESTIMATED). That was when the parametric or the police officer or whoever else was in the room at the time checked their watch and declared Holden was dead to make it official.
That morning of April 3rd started out like most Mondays. The weekend had wrapped up as a pretty decent one after Holden and I spent the majority of our time swapping bedrooms. Our family has a rich and somewhat odd history of moving bedrooms around way too often. Once again we decided that he could have the upstairs bedroom with more space and more privacy. My wife, Tammy, and I would take his room on the first floor. Less stairs to climb for Tammy’s arthritic knees and fewer steps for me to hit the head in the middle of the night, so what the hell.
Holden was upbeat all weekend and enjoyed setting up his new room and getting all of his computer and music equipment set up just right. He went out with some friends Saturday night. I don’t recall the details of who, what, and where, but Tammy and I were always glad and relieved when Holden did something social and got out of the house for a while.
I suppose that’s a decent enough segue to mention Holden’s past, which had been difficult for him and us over the last few years. His history of suicide attempts and self-harm started in April (yep) of 2013. I have no doubt he’d been struggling prior, but that’s when Tammy and I got our wakeup call after he swallowed most of a bottle of his brother’s Ritalin. After a short stay in Children’s Hospital, he was transferred by a police car to Rogers Memorial psychiatric hospital.
Over the next four years there were ups and downs. Various medications started, altered, and stopped. Different therapists with poor to fair results. Holden’s second stay at Rogers was shortly after his first in 2013, this time Tylenol instead of Ritalin.
The next incident was in July of 2015. He lost his nerve and couldn’t go through with his original plan of jumping from the eighth floor rooftop garden at St. Luke’s Hospital. Fortunately for him, his backup plan of drinking a bottle of bleach in the car didn’t pan out either. The failed jump/bleach incident had Holden admitted to Rogers for the third time for eleven days.
Just two days after coming home, Holden went right back to Rogers after he sliced up his arms and legs with a knife and stabbed himself in the neck. The house had been virtually stripped of anything remotely dangerous, but he found a way. For almost two days he hid the wounds from us, even going to work and a session with his therapist, hiding the wound on his neck with his hoodie. Blood trickled down his skin under his shirt while the three of us in his therapy session reviewed the progress he’d made from his inpatient stay and his plans for staying healthy in the future. The next morning he reluctantly showed me the gaping hole in his neck, so deep I could see exposed muscle or tendons. He didn’t see home for the next thirty three days.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Like I mentioned earlier, there were good times and bad and I always tried my best to maintain cautious optimism for Holden’s future. Although he never seemed to get much out of talk therapy, Holden learned a lot from his experiences, did some growing up, and things slowly stabilized for him. He stopped self-harming and eventually came off of antidepressants. A few days before this eighteenth birthday he turned type one diabetic but he took it in stride and did a good job of taking care of himself. Despite struggling with school most of his childhood and missing so much time due to hospitalization his junior and senior year, he graduated high school in 2016.
Holden didn’t really have any plans for after high school. He was never a very good student and had such low self-esteem when it came to his talents and abilities that he dismissed the notion of going to college. He’d worked for the better part of a year as an intern where I worked and after graduation he’d been hired on full time as machine operator at a different plant. He lasted just one day. From what I gathered, it was a combination of the guy training him not being very good at explaining the job, Holden not speaking up with questions, and his anxiety getting the best of him. On his second day he got ready in the morning and made it as far as the car before finally sending me a text letting me know he couldn’t do it. Mostly he felt bad for letting us down. It didn’t bother me too much because I’ve been there too. Who hasn’t had a rough start at a new job and never went back, or at least was tempted not to?
Unfortunately the first few weeks of unemployment eventually turned into months and Holden made no efforts of looking for a new job. He convinced himself he couldn’t handle it, no matter what the position was. After the relationship with his latest girlfriend ended, he rarely left the house at that point, much less his room. He’d stay up most of the night playing video games, tinkering with his music equipment and a dozen used Macintosh computers he’d bought to refurbish and sell for a profit.
I realized as I wrote the last couple of paragraphs, I described what sounds like a depressed young man who was broadcasting warning signs to his naive parents. But that’s the thing, Holden wasn’t actually doing that bad at the time. Slacking for sure, but he definitely wasn’t the first to drift aimlessly right after high school. His mood had the normal ups and downs that everybody experiences and even though he did spend a lot of time alone physically, he was always talking to somebody on one social media or messaging platform or the other. He did his share of laughing and screwing around with his unique sense of humor and did go out once in awhile with his slowly expanding group of post high school friends.
I tried to take things in stride even though it bugged me that he was making no progress toward building a life of his own outside of the house like his older brother did. I often wondered if we, as parents, were handling it correctly. Should I have dragged him out of bed every morning at dawn and shove the classifieds in his face? Demand rent because he was an adult and threaten to kick him out if he didn’t pay up? Were we too soft on him because of his past? I did my best to suppress these doubts and maintain that cautious optimism, telling myself that eventually Holden would get his act together. Eventually he’d realize he didn’t want to live with his parents forever and he’d have to at least get a job.
On the morning of April 3rd I got ready to feed our three cats but came up one short. Kitty had heard the usual breakfast antics (our elderly and deaf cat Flanders screams like a banshee when she’s hungry) from upstairs in Holden’s room and was scratching at the door. I opened the door a crack to let him out and stopped halfway down the hall before a nagging feeling told me to go back and check on sleeping Holden. Before we break out the dramatic music and label that as some ominous significance, I still don’t consider that moment really anything out of the ordinary. I think most parents do a double-take once in awhile to look at their sleeping kid just to confirm that yep, they’re in their bed, chest is moving up and down, and everything is A-OK.
I stuck my head in his room and Holden snored once. A-OK.
A few weeks ago I stumbled onto some article that described what happens to a person physically and mentally as they’re dying. The subject has crossed my mind a lot more that it has in the past as you can imagine. A few months after losing Holden, my Uncle Larry and Aunt Joan passed away within days of each other so the subject of death is never far from my mind.
One of the things described in the article is the so called “death rattle,” a sound often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. It occurred to me with somewhat of a growing sense of horror that what I heard that morning was not a normal snore. What if my son’s heart was stopping just as I was filling Kitty’s food dish downstairs?
Thinking back to that moment I can convince myself that what I heard was a normal snore because that’s exactly what it sounded like. Even though I’ve never heard a death rattle I’m almost certain that wasn’t it and how can you be so sure if you’d just gone back upstairs and shook him a little you would have seen something wasn’t right and called 911 and they probably maybe could’ve saved his life how could you be so stupid. With the cats and dogs fed I got into my car and headed into work around 7:00 AM.
That day at work was uneventful. Or maybe it was, who can remember? All I know for sure was the sound I heard as I pulled into the driveway around 5:20. As my car rolled to a stop I heard my wife laughing from inside. I mean, really laughing the top of her lungs like she does sometimes. My initial thought was that one of the dogs probably did something really goofy to get her going.
By the time my hand reached for the car door handle and my foot hit the driveway, the smirk on my face quickly fell when I realized she wasn’t laughing at all. She was screaming. Again, my thoughts went to the dogs, specifically to a few years back when our old dog Sandy who was prone to aggression attacked our other dog Lilly. When Tammy called me at work after finally separating them, it literally took a few minutes for her to calm down before I could out make over the phone what she was sobbing about.
I slammed the car door shut and took a step for the door as her screaming grew louder. She must have seen me pull up just as she’d ran into the living room to grab her phone. She pulled the front door open and managed to get a simple sentence out between sobs that turned my blood cold.
I cleared the distance from the living room to the stairs in what felt like single bound, taking them four or five at a time while Tammy tried to keep up behind me on those arthritic knees.
I think I called out his name. I dropped to my knees and touched his leg. That’s all it took. A second earlier I was certain my wife was wrong. It just couldn’t be possible. He was in the exact same position as I saw him that morning, sleeping peacefully on his mattress on the floor, snoring once to let me know he was A-OK. All it took was to touch his cold and stiff leg and see the dark red splotches on his nose and his horribly pale face to know. My wife had screamed HOLDEN IS DEAD HOLDEN IS DEAD and now I believed her.
I stumbled out into the hallway as Tammy tried her best to coherently explain the situation to the 911 dispatcher. I never went back into his room that night. The next time I would see Holden would be at his funeral four days later.
Tammy’s version of that day was no easier than mine, that’s for sure. Whenever my brain wanders and decides it would be a great time to relive her screams echoing through my head (which is a lot), I mention it to her sometimes. She always feels the need to apologize for putting me through that experience which is sweet but ridiculous. She was alone in the house when she’d made the awful discovery. It would only be a few minutes before my car pulled into the driveway, but if we’re keeping score, what she went through was a lot harder.
Holden was a night owl, always had been. It wasn’t uncommon for him to stay up into the wee hours and sleep for most of the day. I was never crazy about his third shift lifestyle which had only increased once his daytime demands of work and school no longer applied.
When Tammy didn’t hear a peep from him upstairs for most of the day she didn’t give it much thought at first. Usually she’d peek in on him once or twice when his bedroom had been on the ground floor, but since he’d just moved upstairs, it didn’t happen that day. She had no reason to pass by his upstairs room, so no peak in.
As you can imagine, Tammy beats herself up often for not checking on him earlier. Just like I have to live with not actually going into his room that morning and having a closer look, she has to live with letting the hours slip by before realizing she hadn’t heard anything from upstairs until after 5:00. She has to live with the fact that while she watched TV her son was dead directly above her. Like I said, if we’re keeping score…
It’s hard not to play the what if game and I do my best not to go down that road. I can honestly say I don’t begrudge my wife at all for not going upstairs sooner and I hope she can say the same for me when I checked in him that morning.
After finding Holden that evening, the next few hours went probably how you would imagine them. Even if you’ve never lost a loved one, it’s not hard to picture the scene. Within minutes our house was swarming with police officers, EMTs, and other various officials and emergency volunteers.
I wandered the house with my heart pounding, eyes bulging. My hand never leaving my mouth as I muttered oh my god over and over. Our son Keegan arrive at some point, making the trip from Milwaukee in what felt like seconds. The dogs barked madly non-stop at the army of strangers in their house.
Eventually the first police officer at the scene came down into the kitchen, pen and pad in hand. He flipped to a new page in his little notebook. “Well, first of all, I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Tammy sobbed and I bent over, hands on my knees, hearing confirmation for the first time from a third party. Even though we were already certain that Holden was gone, hearing a police officer say it out loud was the second hardest thing I’d heard all day.
Of course our first question was how he died, but it was too soon for him to make a guess. I tried my best to answer his questions as I steadied myself on the kitchen counter. A short while later a woman gave us her very preliminary opinion - early signs pointed to an overdose. Something about liquid in the lungs or something.
A small baggie with white granules was found in his dresser drawer when the police searched his room. We held our breath while waiting to see if they would find a suicide note or any other form of evidence we weren’t ready to hear about. Along with the baggie they took his computers and cell phone hoping to find answers we desperately needed.
Eventually a vehicle designed to take Holden away and the two men tasked for the job arrived. The three of us went into our bedroom and closed the door. I don’t think we said a word as footsteps carrying a heavy load stomped down the stairs on the other side of the wall. Just a few minutes later we found ourselves alone in the suddenly quiet house, a business card from Officer Erickson on the counter in exchange for one less family member.
Hours of pacing the house and no food since lunch took its toll and I eventually collapsed on the couch, drained of every ounce of energy. I stared at a spot on the floor for what felt like hours as I sipped a scotch and soda, heavy on the former and light on the latter.
We’d taken turns earlier making that dreaded phone call, as hard as you could imagine it would be. I got as far as my Dad and sister Kathie and asked her to kindly spread the word to my other two sisters. I just didn’t have it in me for any more. My boss at work had to settle for a text message.
One of the hardest things about that first night was the suddenness of it all. My entire world instantly rocketed to a million miles per hour at 5:20 PM and it screeched to a halt shortly after the last police officer left our house. I don’t think any of us really knew what to do with ourselves. Sleep came at some point in the early hours of the morning, but not well.
I’m not much of a dreamer and I rarely have nightmares, but that night I had a doozy. I went upstairs in our house which wasn’t really our house (why is that always the case in dreams?). Holden’s bedroom was at the end of the hall in this particular version of our house and he’d just finished getting out of the shower.
I stood in the doorway as he was toweling off, his back facing me. His skin was grey and covered with large open sores and I realized I was looking at...well, whatever was in his room wasn’t my son.
I slowly backed away and said, “I love you Holden,” as loudly as I could. It came out a whisper. I turned around and walked for the stairs, that creepy it’s after me feeling so common in dreams growing stronger with each step. At the top of the stairs I couldn’t resist looking over my shoulder.
The bedroom door was open just a crack and the thing that definitely wasn’t my son was on its hands and knees watching me through the gap between the door and the carpeting. Even though I could just see one eye I somehow knew it had a humorless grin on its face.
If there’s one tired cliche in TV and movies I could do without, it’s that scene where our hero sits up in bed, gasping for breath and covered in sweat after a horrible nightmare. But damned if I didn’t do just that. I guess they’re called cliches for a reason.
The answers to Holden’s death came slowly, but plenty are still left unanswered. We found out how he died but the why still haunts us. We’ll never know for sure. An autopsy the next day confirmed it was an overdose but the toxicology report could take months thanks to the overwhelming number of overdose deaths in our part of the state. In the meantime the baggie of powder was sent off to a different lab and the police tried their best to get into his computers and phone. Holden encrypted both, so they were never able to get in, despite a few different police departments and a private company specializing in that sort of thing. If you’ve got your devices encrypted you can rest easy.
In the meantime, rumors started floating around as they’re apt to do. Word had it that Holden bought some Fentanyl on the dark web, using bitcoin to pay for it. As ludicrous as it sounded to us as the time, it eventually panned out as looking like that’s exactly what happened.
The mystery baggie was no longer mysterious when we finally got the death certificate. Field 41, Part I. The conditions listed are the diseases, injuries, or complications that caused death. Conditions leading to the immediate cause are listed sequentially and the underlying cause it listed last. Immediate Cause: (a) ACUTE MIXED DRUG (FENTANYL, ETHANOL) INTOXICATION.
When the officer in charge of Holden’s case showed the baggie to somebody that worked in some other office or lab (can’t remember the details) he immediately responded, “Oh yeah, dark web for sure.” Officer Erickson was just as curious and confused as I was when he told me, but apparently the other guy had seen enough similar bags and powders to know exactly where it came from. I started poking around in Holden’s bank account and sure enough, he’d made a purchase of over a hundred dollars in February at a Bitcoin broker website.
The other field on the certificate we’d been dreading to see but relieved to read was Field 28. Manner of Death: ACCIDENT.
Suicide was always a possibility of course but the truth of the matter is there was zero evidence Holden overdosed intentionally. On each of his previous attempts he’d always told somebody something. With the Ritalin he texted his girlfriend who texted us. The Tylenol same thing, although he texted me directly that time. “I did a bad thing.”
Before he intended to jump off the roof at the hospital he sent a text to Tammy, “I love you mom,” and told his girlfriend (different one) what he was doing. She tipped us off.
That Sunday night when he decided to dip into his baggie of dark web Fentanyl with a tracer of an unknown alcohol source, Holden didn’t say a word to anybody. No texts, no calls. No note tucked under his mattress.
In the days and weeks leading up to his death Tammy and I had zero warning signs. And believe me, when it came to Holden and his mental health we had spidey senses like a mother fucker.
Just the simple fact that he enthusiastically agreed to swap bedrooms just two days before he died is enough evidence in my mind. Who agrees to a weekend of back breaking work if you’re planning on doing yourself in a day later? Not to mention he made a few purchases that week, one of them a CD that shipped from France and arrived in the mail a week after he died.
So that leaves the question of why he bought the Fentanyl to begin with. Besides smoking pot a few times, Holden wasn’t into drinking or drugs at all. The likelihood that he bought it with intentions of getting high for fun seems unlikely. More rumors and hearsay, third hand reports of somebody giving advice that Fentanyl was the way to go if you wanted to kill yourself. Taking with alcohol increased the effects.
If Holden bought the drug in February, why did he wait until April to take it? Did he change his mind shortly after it had arrived? Why the early morning hours of April 3rd? Was he just experimenting? Did he know all it would take to kill him was the equivalent of a few grains of salt?
These are the answers we’ll never know and frankly at this point I don’t really care anymore. I know I speak for Tammy on that too. Whether it was an accident or intentional doesn’t really matter because our son is gone and nothing is going to change that. I’ll admit it’s possible that something happened that night that depressed him so deeply and so profoundly, he gave into the impulse and dipped into that baggie knowing exactly what he was doing. Label me in denial as much as you want, but that wasn’t Holden. That wasn’t his modus operandi. I’ll take that opinion with me to my own grave.
As I write this it’s been a week shy of six months since Holden died. It feels like it happened a lifetime ago and just yesterday at the same time. There are two things I still struggle with on a daily basis. For one, I miss my kid. If you have children, take a moment to imagine that it’s been six months since you’ve had any contact with them whatsoever. No face to face conversations, no phone calls, texts, hugs, or keeping up with their Facebook posts. It’s a simple enough concept, but it seems like most people I know don’t really get it. Every day that passes just makes us miss him more. It doesn’t get easier, it gets harder.
Tammy and I also struggle with an almost daily sense of total disbelief. At this point it seems odd, but it’s like I still can’t wrap my head around the notion that he’s really gone. I still can’t believe it, and every day it’s like a slap in the face that sometimes makes me pause whatever it is I was doing.
Apparently that’s part of the denial phase of grieving, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to describe how it feels. I don’t deny that Holden is dead but I still can’t quite figure out how it’s possible.
The world has been a very lonely place these past six months. We received a massive amount of love and support immediately after Holden’s death but it didn’t take long after the funeral for life to go on. For us it didn’t. Still hasn’t.
So that’s my story, I guess. As I sat down to write this I didn’t really have a point in mind and as I wrap it up I’m still not sure that I do. It’s not a column on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with grieving parents. There’s plenty of content out there for that if you’re interested. It’s not a warning of the dangers of opiates and how they can destroy families either. All I know is over the last couple of weeks I felt the need to write about this and sometimes all you need to get started is the first sentence. My son died on a Monday.
I hate Mondays.
11/18/1997 - 4/3/2017
Oop. Looks like it's been over two months since I've written anything on my blog. I'm a bad blog owner, but I have a good excuse.
Over the summer my wife Tammy and I visited The House on the Rock. On the long car ride home, I settled into in a soul searching sort of mood. I blame all the nightmare inducing crap in said house on said rock. If you don't what I'm talking about, here's a few examples of what's in it.
But I digress...
On the long ride home I started thinking about how this whole self publishing thing wasn't really working out for me. Despite toiling away for the last six years writing and publishing over nine books and counting, my dream of making a living out of it just hasn't panned out. Although I don't plan on quitting writing, I decided it's about time for me to take a break and concentrate on my regular old boring career in IT. It dawned on me that I have at least 30 years left before I can even think about retiring. 30! So it's time to go back to school and earn my long overdue bachelor degree.
Just as I was starting to research various universities and online programs, we got some bad news in the mail. The feds were pulling the plug on my wife's monthly disability payments. She's struggled with health problems for years and applied for disability back in 2009 or so. After almost two years of rejections and appeals, the joke was on them when she went into kidney failure in 2011 and they HAD to accept her.
Fortunately, she got a kidney transplant in 2014 but unfortunately for us, according to the folks at social security, she's all better now and doesn't need disability. Sadly that's not true, as she still has her original health problems before the kidney stuff started in addition all sorts of new problems. Don't let the smiling girl above fool you. It was one of her rare good days and we don't get too many.
It was around this time that I started driving for Uber and Lyft to make some extra fun money on the side. With the checks from Uncle Sam no longer coming in I had to step up my driving from fun money to food money. There's no way I can handle working full time, driving part time, and putting in at least 20 hours of school a week.
So that's my excuse, Dear Reader. I don't have much time for writing blogs posts and even less time for writing novels. I'm afraid that's going to be it from me for a while. Poor Rich Bowman may never lose his virginity, Liberty Sanderson may never save the world in Windigo Soul 2, and Pickles and Gary will never reach YouTube stardom.
As always, thanks for your support. My book sales continue to trickle in despite zero marketing efforts on my part and I still love to read reviews and hear from readers. Someday I'll get back to making stuff up on the pages of a book and I hope you'll still be there when I do.
I'm taking a break from writing for a while, but that doesn't mean I've stopped creating content full of immature and inappropriate humor. Introducing my new video series, Pickles and Gary.
If you like it, please subscribe and share. Episode two is on the way....
This week I'm finishing up the rough draft of the Bowman Chronicles Book 2, Rich Bowman is not Having a Party.
In this episode we find Rich's parents deciding to leave him home alone for the weekend while they go camping. Although Rich intends to keep his promise of No Parties, the gang is persistent and finally convinces Rich to hold a small get together Friday night. What's the worst that could happen?
In the meantime, Amy Rugg starts showing interest in Rich again after he shows her his dark side, and the mob hasn't given up on finding Joker. Unfortunately for Rich, he is their best lead in trying to track her down.
Look for Rich Bowman is not Having a Party this June in digital and paperback format. Audio version release to be determined.
Amazon should implement a rewards program that gives it's customers incentive to leave reviews for products they purchase.
I love Amazon as a customer and as a merchant selling wares on their platform. 99.9% of the books I've sold as a self-published author have come courtesy of Amazon. I also love getting reviews for my books. Each one I receive is like a tiny morale booster, urging me to keep writing. Nothing feels better than a complete stranger gushing over the work you created. I even enjoy reading bad reviews, as sometimes they literally make me LOL.
Unfortunately, very few readers leave reviews, despite me practically begging at the end of each of my books. The Kindle app also gives them the opportunity to do so when they've finished. How few? I did the math once and based on my own sales, the figure was around .016% of people who bought my books left a review.
Reviews serve a purpose, other than stoking the author's ego or slapping them across the face and letting them know they're a no-talent hack. Have you ever bought a product with dozens of similar competitors simply because it had the largest number of positive reviews? I know I have. It's a little different when you're dealing with books, but when there are so many to choose from, sometimes it's easier to make a decision considering books that only have hundreds of reviews. As a reader myself, I'm guilty of that too.
So I think everybody can agree that customer reviews are a good thing, so Amazon should make some effort to motivate customers to do so. Why do only .016% of my readers review my books? Simple. There's nothing in it for them.
Amazon should implement a Reviewer Rewards Program, giving out points for each review written. Points earned could be redeemed for:
- Free shipping
- Free upgrade to next day shipping
- Free music downloads
- Free Amazon Video rentals
- Amazon gift cards
- Discount Prime membership
Those are just some examples that came to mind as I write this.
There are some possible downsides to everything, and this is no exception. Overnight a cottage industry of scammers would try to come up with all sorts of ways they could game the system to get free swag. Obviously, Amazon would need a way to prevent people from sitting at their computer all day writing bogus reviews.
There is a system in place already that marks reviews verified purchase to those who actually bought the product they reviewed. Obviously only those reviews would be eligible for rewards. Some sort of human intervention would probably be needed as well to disqualify reviews that aren't deemed helpful, such as the picture I posted above. Would that make my idea cost prohibited for them to implement? Only the Amazon bean counters would be able to answer that.
What say you, internet? Is there a huge down-side that I haven't considered? Is this a good idea or am I just a big dope? Let me know in the comments below.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books in need of review and is indeed a big dope.
Last year when I was out of new ideas for a book, I started dabbling with some memoirs. I didn't have any intention of publishing them, it was just a way to keep from getting rusty. It didn't take long for inspiration to strike, and I realized some of my experiences as a young lad might translated into a work of fiction. Thus, Rich Bowman and the Uzi Poopie Loopies was born.
Set in my hometown of Grafton, Wisconsin in 1990, my goal for this book is to have fellow gen-xers like me to come for the nineties nostalgia, but stay for the story.
This will be book one of a series and is available for pre-order right now. Available to read on February 5th.
Spring break of 1990 is over. Richard Bowman has resigned to keep his head down and finish his sophomore year at Grafton High School the way he started it - academically fair to middling, socially mediocre, and romantically very much well below average.
When the opportunity to befriend a group of senior guys lands in Rich’s lap practically overnight, he steps out of his comfort zone of weekends in front of his Commodore 64 to a world of cigarette smoke, basement beer kegs, and promiscuous members of the opposite sex.
In the meantime, the admin for a local online bulletin board asks Rich to hold onto a mysterious encrypted computer file. Rich reluctantly agrees, only to find it may put him and his entire family in danger.
Rich Bowman and the Uzi Poopie Loopies is a trip down memory lane lined with mullets, pegged pants, hair bands, and cell phones the size of toaster ovens. A simple and better time. Or was it?
So I watched Red Dawn the other night. No, not the shitty 1984 movie where the Russians invade and a group of teens in Colorado fight them. I'm talking about the other Red Dawn. The shitty 2012 movie where the North Koreans invade and a group of teens in Washington fight them.
I was eleven years old when the original came out. I didn't get to enjoy it until years later when I was in middle school and it became a VHS staple in video stores across America. And it was awesome. What 13-year-old kid wouldn't want to grab their dad's hunting rifle and fight the commies with their buddies? It was any red blooded American kid's dream. Mind you, around the same time my friends and I were shouting "Wolverines" at our 19-inch televisions, we were also having conversations like this: "Man, if I could go back in time, and if I couldn't get killed, I would go fight in the Vietnam war. It would be so awesome."
That's the problem. We were stupid violence loving teen boys who lapped up crap like Red Dawn almost as much as a tattered issue of Penthouse found in a dumpster. I watched the '84 Red Dawn a day or two after the remake. Although I enjoyed the nostalgic factor it provided, I realized it was a pretty lame flick. So that begs the question...why does Hollywood remake terrible movies?
For Red Dawn, I can only image the thought process went something like this: They took a decent plot from a so-so movie and told themselves they could do a much better job than those cocaine-fueled hacks from 1984. Sadly, they failed and failed miserably. 2012 Red Dawn is terrible. It earned a pathetic 12% on rottentomatoes.com. And who thought it would be a good idea to try and transform the fat kid from Drake and Josh into an action hero?
As you may have guessed by the movie poster above, what really got me thinking of this subject was the latest news of the upcoming Road House starring Ronda Rousey as Dalton. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Road House because it's one of those rare movies that's unintentionally so bad that it's good. But it is indeed bad. As a matter of fact, I wrote an entire blog post on how it's the best bad movie ever made: 44 Reasons why Road House is the Best Worst Movie of all Time.
Why does Hollywood insist on doing this time and again? Because there are no more ideas for new movies, of course. Every plot, story line, scenario, situation, and scene, has been used before. They're forced to remake old movies. Right? Of course not! As a matter of fact, I have several books that would make smashing movies. I'll sell out big-time. All you producers out there could probably buy the rights for less than what you'll spend on the catering bill for the next reboot of Spider-Man movies.
The pathetic and lazy thing about remaking films like Red Dawn and Road House (and Dirty Dancing. Swayze is spinning in his grave!) is why they do it. Not because they feel like they can do a better job this time around. It's because they know idiots like me will watch them. Only because we liked the original and we'll be more likely to pay to watch the remake. It's the same reason those Atari 2600 emulators are for sale. But try to get a ten-year-old kid in 2015 to play Adventure and just see what happens.
Remakes for kids are especially lame. Take Mr. Peabody & Sherman from 2014. Who's that for? Not a single kid on the planet who went to the theater with their parents was aware of the original cartoon first seen in 1959 on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. So does that mean it's marketed to the parents? Most of them have probably never seen it either. What's next? A Rocky and Bullwinkle movie?
I don't have to see the new version of Road House to know it's going to be a colossal piece of unwatchable crap. And not in a good way, like it's 1986 ancestor. It's going to take itself too seriously, and like 2012's Red Dawn, be an unforgettable snooze fest.
Hollywood, I implore you. Stop remaking movies. Sure, a decent one sneaks through from time to time, but you're just making fools of yourselves at this point. In this golden age of self-publication and indie authors, there are literally thousands of fresh ideas from books released every day that would make great movies we haven't seen before. Like mine. Seriously. Make me an offer and I'll sell out so fast it'll make your head spin. I can't guarantee the film version of Black Water Creek starring Jennifer Lawrence will be a blockbuster, but I do guaranteed a reboot of The Hunger Games in 2033 is just going to piss everybody off.
January 21st, 2008. "Robert Brumm is trying to figure out the point of facebook"
That was my very first post on Facebook, back when all the posts were in third person. Remember that? It's hard to believe I've been using Facebook on a regular basis for over seven years now. And you know what? I'm not ashamed to admit it.
I like Facebook. It's done wonders for my writing career, helped me stay in touch with old friends, helped to make many new ones, and offers plenty of entertainment.
There is a dark side to the second most visited website in the world, however. Like a loaded pistol lying on the ground, Facebook is neutral on it's own - neither good nor bad. It's the people that use it that can make it so damn annoying.
Annoying trends have come and gone over the years, but today while taking a selfie holding a sloppy Joe I made on vacation standing next to a newborn baby that won a spelling bee declaring "It's Friday, bitches! Who's ready to get yer drink on!", I mulled over the current trends on Facebook that annoy the hell out of me. See if you agree with my list (in no particular order) of my Seven Most Annoying Things on Facebook in 2015.
1. You Won't Believe What Happens Next!
Links to videos and news stories are as old as Facebook, but a particularly annoying trend showed up about a year ago. Click-bait headlines.
"A mom left her infant alone in the same room as a Saint Bernard. You won't believe what happened next!"
"This man gave a homeless vet a dollar. His response will leave you in tears!"
"A mom confronts her son's bully. What happened will floor you!"
Guess what, suckers? These links exist for a reason. They tempt you into clicking on the link, taking you to some sleezy website, and driving traffic to try and get better rankings for advertising dollars. In the meantime, you just wasted 30 seconds of your life being let down by a lame video that wasn't nearly as exciting as the headline suggested.
I'm not saying you need to stop sharing funny, informative, or interesting links to videos and stories. After all, if you're reading this, chances are you were directed here by Facebook. What I'm suggesting - nay, DEMANDING - is to stop clicking on or forwarding anything that ends in "You won't believe what happens next!" Seriously, you're annoying the shit out of people and breaking the internet at the same time. Just. Stop. Now.
2. Thoughtful Looking Celebrities Share Their Opinion
These celebrity quote posters have been around forever and never cease to amaze me. Remember the other day when you were reading People magazine and you came across an awesome quote from Johnny Depp? Then you fired up Photoshop, found a great picture of Johnny, and typed up the the quote into the photo? Then you posted it on Facebook and sat back with a satisfied smile on your face, right?
No? Me either. Seriously, who in the hell takes the time to make these things? They just don't appear out of thin air and I'm pretty sure Mariah Carey and George Takei aren't whipping these things up on their own.
Not to mention, is anybody fact checking these things before releasing them out into the world?
Anybody can make up whatever shit they want and plaster it on a photo of Jim Bob Duggar and call it a day. Mark my words - one of these days a bogus poster is going to go viral with a made up quote resulting in bad consequences. In the meantime, these lame ass posters are annoying as hell. Stop sharing them. And if you ever meet somebody that created one, run. Run away.
3. I Don't Play No Stinkin's Games!
Ah, game requests. An oldie but a goodie, right? Here's where you're expecting me to rant about all the notifications inviting me to play Mafia Farmer, and here's where you'd be wrong. What bugs me are the dopes that take it personally and think that their friends are deliberately seeking them out and inviting them to play Cranberry Crush - Pirate Edition.
Newsflash for you cranky non-gamers: These games may automatically send out invites to the friend lists of those who play them. Getting on your soap box and begging everybody to stop inviting, won't stop the invites but will make you look stupid. Fortunately, most people only do it once because their rant is followed by half a dozen responses repeating what I just said and instructions on how to turn off game notifications. I had hoped this annoying trend would have died out years ago, but alas, I just saw one today.
4. Crushed. Wondering What's the Point of All This...
I was going to refer to this as "cliff hanger attention seeking posts" but while researching this topic, I found it has a proper name: Vaguebooking.
You know the posts.
By all means, if you're sad or mad about something, go ahead and post about it. That's one of the reasons social media exists. But going about it this way not only makes you look like an attention seeking whiner, but can also worry people. Seriously, put yourself in other people's shoes before even thinking about pulling this crap. There's a possibility of you seriously making loved ones worry and be afraid if they don't know what's going on with you. So knock it the hell off and grow up.
As for the rest of us...
5. Yeah, Well...Better Safe Than Sorry
The bullshit public service announcement. It's been around since the dawn of the internet, ever since the first gullible rube signed up for a Yahoo! email account and forwarded a warning about rat feces on soda cans from Aunt Jackie. Unfortunately, these urban legends are alive and well in the land of Facebook.
My mom used to forward these "warnings" to me all of the time and 9 out of 10 were bullshit. I pleaded with her time and time again to take 2 seconds to Google the messages first before sending to see if they were real or not. "Better safe than sorry!" was her response. Sigh.
For the love of God, people. Before even thinking about forwarding any sort of warnings about hackers, child molesters, or everyday products that will kill your children, take 5 seconds to Google it. More than likely, it's bullshit started by somebody with too much time on their hands. By the way, if the public service announcement is a photo of a public service announcement printed out on a piece of paper, don't bother looking it up. I'm not sure why, but these are always phony 100% of the time.
Want proof? I whipped this up the other day, posted it on FB, and nobody called me on it. Seems legit. Shared. Not a public service announcement or warning per say, but still 100% false.
6. But I Don't Want to be ANY of the Baldwin Brothers!
Not much to say about the classic Facebook quiz. Does anybody get the slightest shred of entertainment from these idiotic things? Does anybody realize that most them are just data mining tools designed to get a read on what ads to throw in your face? Didn't think so. Just say no. If you really want to know which hair band you are, just email me and I'll let you know (It's Ratt).
7. Just Speakin' My Mind, Man.
Don't talk about them on Facebook. Ever. You're not going to change anybody's opinion, no good can come from debating them, and you're guaranteed to leave the conversation frustrated and annoyed. It's not worth it and you'll be a happier person once you refrain from doing it. And guess what? You're annoying the shit out of the rest of us. 'Nuff said.
Not to worry, Facebook fans. More annoying trends are sure to surface in 2016 and beyond. Believe me, I could come up with a lot more than seven things that annoy the hell out of me, but I just read another article listing articles about annoying Facebook things that are annoying, so I'll stop at seven.
What things that people do on FB annoy you? Share in the comments below.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books. You won't believe what they're about!
Collaborating with a team is never easy, but it helps when your team is packed full of awesome people. I'm proud to announce the release of Terrible Cherubs - eleven kick ass short stories written by the authors of DeadPixel Publications.
One of the stories is called Camp 24 written by some Robert Brumm guy. It's set in the Windigo Soul universe, so if you're a fan of that book, you might want to check it out.
Terrible Cherubs is available for pre-order for just $.99. The price will go up on release day April 10th, so grab your copy now!
CHEF, a movie written and directed by Jon Favreau, hit Netflix last week so I decided to give it a watch. The movie was okay, a little schmaltzy and predictable, but I'm not here to write a movie review. I want to talk about a short scene in the film that changed my life forever.
Favreau's character is a chef with a passion for cooking who puts 100% into every dish he creates - including a grilled cheese sandwich for his son.
My eureka moment didn't come at the ridiculous amount of cheese he tossed on the sammy but the way he grilled it. He kept it open faced and closed the sandwich once both sides of the bread were toasted perfectly. BRILLIANT!
This is such a simple concept that make perfect sense and I can't believe I'd never heard of this method or thought of it myself. I've made many a cheese grill in my day and they often come out soggy and inconsistent. No more! By grilling both sides at once, not only does it cut down on the cooking time, but both sides of the sandwich get a perfect golden brown and stay crispy, not soggy.
I never considered digging a giant hole in my back yard and filling it with water until I saw the preformed pond kit at Home Depot one day. I instantly fell in love with the idea of having a pond in my yard and was glad to see it wasn't cost prohibitive.
They only had two pond shells to choose from, so I went with the bigger one which held just under a hundred gallons.
I also purchased a basic filter, a water pump, grabbed my trusty shovel, and got to diggin.' I even found a little waterfall kit to make it extra fancy and such.
The biggest decision when planning a pond is the one you want to spend the most time thinking about: where to put it? Obviously, changing your mind and redigging a big hole in your yard isn't fun for anybody, but there are other things to consider besides aesthetics.
You're going to need some power to the pond for your pump, lights, de-icers, etc., so plan accordingly. I decided to place my pond right up against my garage so I had an outlet just a couple of feet away. Speaking of outlets, water and electricity don't mix, so make sure you install a GFCI outlet for anything related to your pond.
It's also not a good idea to place your pond directly under a tree unless you want to spend all autumn fishing leaves out of it. And finally, make sure you check with digger's hotline before you get started. Hitting a buried gas or electric line with your shovel = bad.
So you picked your spot, bought your supplies, and made sure there's nothing but dirt under your feet. Great! Start digging, donkey. I won't lie, it's a lot of work and monotonous, but I enjoyed it. It's good exercise and rewarding because you're digging for a worthwhile goal. Just take your time and don't forget a good pair of work gloves, otherwise it's blister city.
If you use a preformed shell, it's pretty easy to get the basic outline of where to dig just by placing it where you want it to go. Once you get past the sod and start getting deeper, it's a game of trial and error to get the hole just right.
You'll have to mess around with back-filling the hole to support the bottom and sides of the shell. Be sure to put a level on it. You'll want the dirt under and around the sides of the shell as tight as you can get it because once this puppy is full of water it's going to want to settle.
I got a little fancy with a preformed waterfall shell and some tubing to create a waterfall. It's a good use for all that dirt you dig up! Where to put the rest of it is up to you.
The end result was....okay. The whole project took me two weekends and I was pretty happy with it. I let the vegetation around the pond to grow out and added a couple plants in the pond to make it look a little more natural.
So now that I've said all that, let me give you a little advice. DON'T use a preformed shell for your pond. It only took me about a year to regret that my pond was too small and that's pretty much the biggest shell they make. Plus, it was a pain to dig the hole just right if I'm honest.
After a couple of years I decided to drain the pond, yank out the shell, and dig a much bigger pond using a flexible PVC liner. Otherwise known as a big-ass sheet of rubber-like material. It's much easier to install and can be cut to size for a custom pond.
Once my old pond was drained, I pulled out the shell and flipped it over, using it as part of a small hill next to the new pond that will be part of the waterfall.
How you design the shape of your pond is up to you, as long at the liner you purchased is big enough. You'll want to vary the depth not only for aesthetic reasons, but for function as well. One end of my pond starts off shallow and gets deeper, just like at the beach. The shallow end gives my goldfish a spot to bask in the warmer water on sunny days and encourages birds to stop in for a splash and a drink. We even attracted a frog last summer.
Build in a shelf along the perimeter of the pond to place potted plants and make sure you have at least one deep spot in the pond that won't freeze over in the winter. Even if you're not planning on fish, I would recommend doing this in case you ever change your mind. Goldfish can survive in the coldest of winters but not if they're frozen solid in the ice!
How deep you have to dig is based on where the frost line is in your neck of the woods. Basically you need to dig deep enough to where the soil doesn't freeze in the winter. Here in Wisconsin, I dug a "well" in my pond that's about 3 feet deep and about 2 feet around.
Once you're done digging I would recommend waiting a day or two. Study that hole and let it sink in. If you want to make any changes to the shape or size, now is the time to do it before the liner and water get put in.
Before you lay the liner, make sure you've removed any sharp rocks sticking out from the dirt. Pond liners are pretty heavy duty stuff, but better safe then sorry. Once the liner is in place, it's just a matter of breaking out the hose and filling it up, smoothing and adjusting along the way.
Once the pond is full, let it sit for a day before trimming the excess off the liner. You'll want to give everything a chance to settle. Allow an overlap of six inches or so around the rim of the pond. I used irregular pavers to hide the edge of the liner, keep it in place, and offer a more natural look.
As you can see from the photos, I used all the dirt I dug up to create a small hill next to the pond. It provided a base for the waterfall I built and added to the scene I was going for.
Here fishy fishy....
I didn't plan on putting fish in the pond until one day when my son came home carrying a plastic bag full of water with a gold fish floating in it. He'd won it at the local fair and asked if it could go in the pond.
A few years later, and we're up to almost 30 gold fish. I think we bought around 10 and the rest were born naturally in the pond with no input from us. Mother Nature finds a way to do her thing! Nothing fancy, just regular old goldfish at the store for 39 cents a piece.
Not only are goldfish beautiful and soothing to watch, but they're extremely tough and hardy. They'll survive in the coldest of winter and practically take care of themselves. Toss some flakes in the water once a day for supper and they'll be happy.
A few points about goldfish:
Filtration and aeration
Unless you go crazy and your pond is the size of football field, you're going to need a way to filter the water and make sure it's got plenty of oxygen. Nature will find a way to balance everything out if the conditions are right, but it takes a while for a natural ecosystems to establish. The size of your pond is a factor - smaller ponds require more man-made intervention where larger ponds tend to take care of themselves easier.
As far as aeration goes, you can go with a simple pond fountain or create a waterfall. There are many different approaches to designing and building waterfalls, so I won't get into any specifics here. Spend some time perusing the web for instructional videos and articles to get some ideas.
I started out with simple box style filter but eventually upgraded to a UV pressure filter which made a world of difference. The pressure filter is nice because you can place it outside of the pond so it doesn't take up room or look ugly. With any kind of filter you'll need tubing and a pump based on the size of your pond.
I'm not going to lie - don't expect shimmering crystal clear water even once you get a filter going. You'll have days where the water is so cloudy you can barely see your fish. There will be times where the water is green and you have algae floating on the surface. Relax and be patient. A pond is a living thing and takes time to establish. Good bacteria needs to grow to keep bad bacteria at bay. Plants, fish, water, bugs, microorganisms - eventually they'll find a way to balance out and you'll be rewarded with clear and healthy water. Crack open a beer, relax, and resist the urge for chemical intervention.
So have I temped you to dust off that shovel in the garage? I hope so, because our pond is my favorite thing about our home. I can't tell you how relaxing it is to sit out there after work, beer in hand, watching my fish swim around and listening to the soothing sound of the waterfall. I only wish it was bigger. Oh, and by the way? This summer I'm making it bigger.
Any questions? I'm no expert, but I can answer anything based on my experience. Comment below and I'll get back to you.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and has only fallen into his backyard pond three times. Out of those three he was pushed once. Please hand him a towel and subscribe to his blog.
Like many people, I was suckered in by the deal. I can’t remember the specifics, but DirecTV promised me a butt-load of channels for a low low price. Whole-home DVR included! Free installation included! NFL Sunday Ticket included! Call now, and we’ll double your order! (just pay separate shipping and handling fees that happen to be the same price.)
After years of watching my Time Warner Cable television bill creep up, I signed the two year sweetheart deal from DirecTV and it was great. For a while.
Of course, we all know that low low price is only good for a year. But that’s waaayyy in the future, right? Well, those twelve months slipped by pretty quickly and by the end of my contract agreement I was paying $110 a month for satellite TV.
$110 a month to watch TV isn’t cheap and I didn’t feel like I was getting a 110 bucks worth of entertainment. Not even close. Both of my kids NEVER watch TV (weirdos) and it felt like between my wife and I we only watched a handful of shows on the DVR. Gone are the days of flipping channels to find something to watch. In the meantime, our monthly bill is helping to subsidize obscure networks I didn’t even know we had. I’m looking at you, BabyFirstTV. And don’t think I didn’t notice you hiding in the corner, Free Speech TV (yes, these are real channels). What a waste. Time for a change.
It took a little convincing, but I got the missus on board and cancelled our DirecTV. I sent back the equipment (sans the ugly dish on our roof which they don’t want back) and now we spend all our free time with riveting conversation, reading books by the fireplace, and playing board games as a family.
Like all cable cutters before us, we turned to the magical land of the world wide interwebs for our entertainment needs and haven’t looked back since. The weekly flyers we get in the mail from DirecTV begging us to come back go right in the bin and life is sweet.
Watching TV shows and movies on your laptop, smart phone, and tablet is easy and possible, but not ideal. These devices are great when you’re on the go, but home sweet home means watching on the big screen. For that you need a dedicated streaming device connected to the televisions in your house.
For months before cutting the cable I experimented with a home theater PC (HTPC) and was never quite satisfied. I dreamed of a do-it-all box capable of video streaming, Bluray and DVD watching, web browsing, and video game playing. In reality, despite fiddling with different hardware and software configurations for months, I ended up with a PC that wasn’t very user friendly and mediocre at best for most of these tasks. I still have the PC connected to the TV for playing games and watching DVDs, but for streaming video, I decided to go with a dedicated device.
There are a lot of options these days for dedicated streaming devices and most do a very good job. Many new televisions are now “smart” TVs as well with built-in capabilities of connecting to your network for Netflix or Hulu. I’ll admit I have zero experience with smart TVs, but personally I don’t feel like that’s a feature that should be high on your list for must haves of a new TV. Streaming devices are so affordable these days that you can upgrade more often as new devices hit the market, compared to a TV which you’ll be stuck with for years.
A few of the mainstream and popular streaming media players include Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast. You can’t go wrong with any of these devices, but I highly recommend going with Roku.
I’ve owned the first generation Roku for years, so when we cut the cord the decision for what device to rely on was easy. My original Roku was getting a little grey around the edges so I bought the latest and greatest version available.
There are currently four players to choose from: Roku 1, Roku Streaming Stick, Roku 2, and Roku 3. A comparison chart showing the difference in the four models can be found here.
I own a Roku 2 for the bedroom and a Roku 3 for the living room. Although the Roku 2 ($69.99) is a fine player, I highly recommend paying the extra money and going for the Roku 3 ($99.99). The Roku 2 can be slow to respond to commands sometimes and delays while moving through the menus and searching can be frustrating. It also uses an older interface that looks clunky and dated compared to the newer Roku 3.
By comparison, the performance of the Roku 3 is outstanding. The interface is silky smooth, stable, and easy on the eyes. Connectivity comes via a network jack on the back or wifi, and the remote comes with a handy earphone jack (Roku 2 has this as well). I didn’t give this feature much thought until I realized how often I had to try and fall asleep while the missus blasted Doctor Who. Now she watches in bed with headphones and our marriage survives to live another day.
App-wise, Roku supports all the major ones such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon in addition to hundreds of other channels. Many of these channels are free, but are nothing to get excited about. Other channels such as Fox, ESPN, and History require you to log in with your cable or satellite credentials which defeats the purpose of cable cutting. To get the best experience, you’ll have to pony up some dough and pay for a subscription service, which leads us to:
The Video Subscriptions
Did you buy a Roku 3 which I highly recommend? Great! Now what to watch? Your best bet is to sign up for one, two, or all of the big three: Netflix, Hulu+, and Amazon Prime Instant video.
Netflix is the standard when it comes to streaming television and movies. Starting off as a DVD in the mail subscription service in 1999, Netflix started offering streaming in 2007. I signed up right away mostly out of curiosity after they made the announcement and found the library to be pretty limited. Most of what we wanted to watch was on DVD only and the picture quality could be spotty at times. It was pretty common to experience pauses while watching a movie when Netflix struggled to find the best bitrate for your internet connection. We’d sit and wait for up to 30 seconds sometimes watching the buffering status bar crawl across the screen.
Oh, how the times have changes. These days, Netflix is rock solid in the picture quality department and their library is huge. Videos start playing immediately at a lower quality rate and usually after 5 seconds or so, the best picture quality will lock in and stay there. If the connection does get bogged down, your video will keep playing, only at a lower quality in real-time. For me this is quite rare, however. Every movie or show I watch is in HD 99% of the time.
As I mentioned earlier, Netflix’s library of content is large enough that I never question the value of my subscription fee. Entire series of popular shows in every genre and movies galore will keep your queue full indefinitely.
The interface for Netflix will vary based on what you’re using to watch it with, whether it’s the Netflix website or an app for your streaming device. The Netflix channel for Roku 3 is attractive and easy to use. It suggests content based on what you watch and how you rate and integrates with Facebook if that floats your boat. Just think twice before watching Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo if you don’t want your FB friends to know about your guilty pleasures.
Netflix offers three streaming plans:
One screen at a time in standard definition for $7.99/month
Two screens at a time in high definition for $8.99/month
Four screens at a time in HD and Ultra HD for $11.99/month
You also have the option to kick it old school style and sign up for DVD and Bluray discs plans as well.
Hulu is a free website that offers movies and TV shows with short commercial breaks before and during the content. Hulu+ is a subscription service that offers more content than Hulu and is required if you want to use Hulu on a streaming device such as a Roku. Unfortunately, the ads stay, even if you choose to upgrade to the paid plan.
What’s that? I’m paying for this and STILL have to watch advertising? Trust me, it’s not as bad as you might think. The commercials breaks are much shorter and less often than what you’re used to on cable (you’re paying for that too, remember?) however the lack of variety can be annoying. Spend the afternoon binge watching your favorite show and you can expect to see the same Ford commercial a dozen times.
Although Hulu+ offers movies, their television catalog is where they stand apart from the other services. Hulu has agreements with the major networks that allows them to stream current popular primetime shows shortly after they air on “real” TV, such as The Bachelor and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They also have a pretty impressive of older and classic television shows if you’re like me and enjoy watching gems such as Charles in Charge (don’t judge).
Like Netflix, the Hulu+ is well designed, attractive, and easy to use. Hulu+ costs $7.99/month
A Warning About Television Series: Just because you find your favorite TV show doesn’t necessarily mean the entire series is available to watch. Depending on what rights the providers were able to negotiate with the TV folks, sometimes entire series are there and sometimes only a season or two. For example, Hulu+ only has season one of Charles in Charge (don’t judge). I was fired up for season two when the Powell family moved in and Buddy Lembeck turned into an insane person. But alas, my Charles in Charge fix will have to go unfulfilled for now. Don’t judge.
This isn’t just a Hulu problem. All providers including Netflix and Amazon offer incomplete series for some shows.
Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime Instant Video
Amazon is a little different than Netflix and Hulu+. Where the latter offer all-you-can watch for one price, Amazon offers that as well, in addition to buying or renting movies and television episodes separately.
Amazon Prime Instant Video is part of Amazon Prime, which offers free two day shipping on many items, unlimited video streaming in the Prime Instant Video library, unlimited music streaming in the Prime music library, storage space to upload your photos, and one Kindle book borrow per month from the Kindle Select lending library.
Even without all the other features, at $100 a year, Amazon Prime Instant Video is still an affordable option for movie and TV streaming. Consider all the other Prime services and its a no-brainer in my book.
Although the library is a little smaller than what you’ll find at Netflix and Hulu, there’s still plenty to choose from and Amazon offers original programming as well as HBO’s collection of shows such as The Sopranos and Deadwood.
If Prime Instant Video doesn’t have what you’re looking for, Amazon Instant Video most likely will - for a price. You can purchase movies or rent them for 24 hours. Same goes for recent television series, although at $1.99 per episode it can get costly.
Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime Instant Video are both available through the same app on your streaming device and it’s easy enough to search for Prime only content.
YouTube may be full of cat fail compilation videos and Jimmy Buffett concerts shot with a cell phone, but if you look past all the crap, there is actual content on there worth watching. TV shows, music videos, sporting events, and how-to videos just to name a few. And don’t forget, it’s free and owned by Google, so once you watch a video or two, the Google machine behind the scenes does a really good job a recommending similar content.
Which is best?
I’ve had subscriptions to all of the big three at the same time since cutting the cord. Netflix, Hulu+, and Amazon Prime. At a little over $25 a month, I have more content then I could ever get around to watching at a fraction of what DirecTV was debiting from my checking account.
There is a lot of crossover between the three. For example, if I notice Netflix just added a new movie, it was usually just added to Hulu and Amazon as well. I assume once the guys in suits make a movie available for streaming, all three snatch it up to stay competitive. However, there is enough variety between the three that keeps me paying the bills to all of them each month.
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon also offer original programming that you can’t find anywhere else such as the last season of Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black, Behind the Mask, and Transparent.
If I could only go with one of the three, I’d have a hard time deciding, which is why I subscribe to all three. But if you’re going to put a gun to my head, I’d say Netflix is the best based on the recommendation engine, content library, interface, and lack of advertising.
Local Over-the-Air Television
If you live near a big city, you can probably get most, if not all, of the local channels over the air using an antenna. I can’t offer any recommendations on the subject since I’ve never tried, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for antennae reviews.
Why have I never needed to try this? Because I get local TV channels in with my cable internet service. Years ago I found that if I split off my cable before it gets to my cable modem and connect it to the TV, I can pull in almost all of the local channels (except for CBS for some reason) and TBS for free. All in HD except for TBS.
I’m not sure of the technical explanation but I assume those channels are part of the same, uh, bandwidth or something, that the internet flows into the house on and TWC doesn’t have a way to separate them. Either way, I’m enjoying the free channels from Time Warner.
I suppose plenty of you out there could point fingers and question of the morality of my set up, but I sleep well at night. Other than using a basic splitter you can buy anywhere, I haven’t performed any hacking or shady wiring on Time Warner owned equipment. And I’m not getting HBO for free, just the basic local channels that are floating through the air anyway (Except for TBS so I get standard definition as punishment). For all I know, TWC is aware of this and doesn’t care. I’m just sharing my setup and if you decide to give it a try, that’s your decision.
What About Sports?
That’s probably the biggest reason more folks aren’t dumping their cable or satellite TV. And don’t think Big Cable doesn’t know that. If the thought of not being able to catch SportsCenter everyday sends you into a panic attack, then cutting the cable might not be for you. Sorry.
I’m not much of a sports fan, but I can watch every Packer game on our local Fox affiliate. I am into racing however, and I have to admit it was a little painful to miss the Formula 1 and IndyCar season last year. I was able watch plenty of other racing on YouTube a day or two after they aired and some series offer live streaming. Last year I was able to watch every Tudor United Sportscar Championship, World Endurance Championship, and Pirelli World Challenge race.
When it comes to sports, and cable cutting in general, it’s all about compromise. Saving money often means a little sacrifice along the way.
A final word about internet service. Now that you’re saving a bundle without that expensive cable or satellite bill, it’s time to evaluate your internet service if you’re going to stream all your video entertainment needs.
Netflix and Hulu recommend a minimum service of 1.5 megabits per second, but it won’t be a very pleasant experience. For a reliable connection capable of HD quality video, you’re going to want at least 5 Mbps. If you can afford more, bump it up to 10 Mbps or so. Especially if you have other family members browsing the internet or streaming content themselves.
Our family has and 15Mbps connection and quite often I find myself watching watching HD video in the living room while the missus is doing the same in the bedroom and the boy is upstairs killing Nazi Zombies on his PC with no problems.
Does your internet service have a data cap? If it does, you might be screwed. Streaming video chews up a lot of data and it only might take a few days before you hit your limit. As you can see by my usage chart from Time Warner Cable, we use a lot of data and I would guess over 90% of that is streaming video. Notice how little data we used in September? My wife and I were both in the hospital and recovering from surgery during that month so we didn’t watch too much. What you see is the effect of us not streaming.
When you signed up for that $19.95 a month super deal on internet service, make sure you check the fine print to see if you have any restrictions on monthly bandwidth.
I have a dream. Not to live in a world where I’m judged by the content of my character, I dream of a day where we can pick and choose exactly what cable channels we want. That day may never come, so in the meantime I’m making my voice heard with my checkbook. Here’s the good news. This is just the beginning, friends. Technology is only getting better, competition with content providers only getting stiffer, and us as the consumers are on the winning end. Get rid of that bloated and inefficient cable/satellite plan and ride the wave with me.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and refuses to recognize the restraining order from Scott Baio. Don’t judge and don't forget to subscribe to his blog.
Yep, you read that correctly. As of this writing, it's been exactly six months since one drop of shampoo or soap has touched my body. Now before you start vomiting and send sympathy cards to my poor wife and co-workers, let's get something straight. I still bath every single day. I just don't use soap or shampoo to clean myself.
I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard of somebody ditching shampoo. There's been a "no poo" movement out there for quite some time and everybody has their reasons for doing so. Some folks are convinced that deadly toxins are seeping into our bodies via our hair follicles and we're being poisoned by The Man and Big Poo. Some people want to save money or save the environment.
I didn't really have any special reason for stopping, other than it interested me for some reason. I figured there were only two outcomes possible: my hair would get worse or get better. I have thick and coarse hair and I've never really been happy with it. I've also struggled with dandruff for as long as I could remember and never found a shampoo that got rid of it.
As long as I was in an experimental mood, I decided to knock out soap as well and see what happened. I would still shower everyday, but instead of lathering myself up with products, I would stick with hot water, a wash cloth, and good ol friction.
Until I decided to write this post, I generally don't yap too often about the fact I don't wash with soap and shampoo. When I do, most people make a face and say something along the lines of eww, gross, and get away from me, you freak. Then the inevitable first question: "Don't you stink?"
The answer of course, is a big fat no. If I did stink, I would have went back to soap right away. Remember, I didn't stop bathing. I'm not a flea covered hobo and I can assure you that I'm quite clean when I step out of the shower.
Here's the thing that I realized: mother nature knows what she's doing. Our bodies are designed to take care of themselves. Even though it sounds a little gross, our skin and hair discharge natural oils and....stuff, to naturally repel dirt and keep our hair and skin healthy and soft.
After six months of no shampoo, my hair is completely soft, manageable, and the healthiest it's felt and looked. Ever. Same goes for my skin. It's the middle of January and while everybody around me is complaining about dry skin and slathering themselves with lotion, my face and arms are soft and smooth. No winter itch here.
The only part on my body that's dry this winter? My hands, because I do dishes with dish soap and wash my hands with soap after I use the bathroom. Coincidence? I think not.
That's what soap and shampoo do. Cleansers strip the moisture from your body and leave you feeling dry and itchy. To combat this, you load up on moisturizing this and conditioning that to replace what mother nature would provide if you just gave her a chance! And don't get me started on lip balm. I never touch the stuff.
The Breaking in Period
Thinking about ditching the suds and taking the plunge? Great! You'll never have to buy another bottle of shampoo, conditioner, or bar of soap. Your showers will take half the time, your face will clear up, and your dandruff will go the way of the dodo (shampoo is drying our your scalp, dummy!).
Be forewarned, there is a transition period you should be prepared for. Immediately after you stop using shampoo and soap, your body will not be happy. Your hair and skin are used to getting stripped of their natural oils by chemicals, so they're going to complain when you stop. Your hair will feel oily and your skin will too. Not to mention, you'll probably have a little psychological effect of just feeling "gross" for a few days.
Relax. This is normal and temporary. It will take a week or two for your hair to balance out and take care of itself. Initially feeling heavy and greasy, your hair turns more more soft and natural once it gets used to no shampoo. Your skin will adapt much faster.
I've found once I stopped washing my face with soap I get fewer zits. Body odor in my pits has decreased instead of increased. My dandruff hasn't completely disappeared, but it's vastly improved once I knocked off the Head & Shoulders.
So that's that. After six months I see no reason to ever go back to shampoo or soap. What about you? Have you kicked the poo? What about the soap? Share your experiences in the comments. Or call me a freak. I have thick skin. Incredibly soft and lovely thick skin.
Update: 7/11/2016 A year and a half later, and I'm still shampoo and soap free. Judging by the amount of comments, it seems plenty of people out there are interested in joining me. My next experiment? Cold showers! I tried to get started in the middle of winter, but as you can imagine that's not the best time. There are many claims out there of the benefits of cold vs. hot showers including:
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and only acts like a flea covered hobo. Please subscribe to his blog.
On December 8th, Adam Carolla took a call on his podcast from long time listener Josh West, whose brother Nick is in need of a kidney transplant. Nick, 35 from Indianapolis, has been on dialysis since 2011. Frustrated by the long wait his brother has had to endure, Josh figured he'd reach out to Adam to see if he'd be willing to spread the word on his popular podcast.
Not only did Carolla agree, but it got him rolling on a short rant. "First off, wouldn't you love to live in this utopia where instead of all those freeway signs saying 'click it or ticket' they said 'become a donor'? Instead of having zero impact on 0.0% of the population, you'd actually have a life saving impact on a percentage of the population. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Carolla continued to lament why it's illegal for money to exchange hands in kidney transplant situations. "I’m all for a buyer seller market on this. If somebody wants 10 grand or 15 or 20 grand, and you want a kidney and, especially when your gonna die! It’s so insane for the government to say sorry, you’re not allow to do that. So anyway, how do you want to be buried? Hey, if you have a dad that’s rich, or you happen to be rich, and you’re on dialysis, and you've got Dawson (Adam's producer) over there and he wants some cash? So be it. That’s kinda between the two of you."
This inspired the Ace Man to open his checkbook for the cause. "I’ll tell you what, Josh. How about this? I’m sure this will be an issue, but who the fucks cares? I will offer $10,000, not for somebody’s kidney, but just a gift for the person if it’s a match. If you step up and donor this organ, I will be so thankful that I’ll give you a gift."
Any potential donors interested in becoming a living donor to Nick should email: email@example.com
Carolla didn't offer any details regarding the reward, but Josh promised to check back to the show, should a donor be found thanks to the podcast.
Not only do I agree with Adam, but I don't understand why the government is more than happy to foot the bill for Medicare to keep people on dialysis for years, but they won't reward folks financially who donate a kidney.
Instead of spending hundreds of thousands on a single person to cover dialysis cost, why not pay a willing donor $25,000 or $50,000 after they donate? Not only would the number of live kidney donations skyrocket, but that kind of cash could really have a positive impact on the donor. In the meantime, the tax payers are saving millions because dialysis times are reduced significantly.
Obviously, this would need be highly regulated to prevent people from harvesting kidneys willy nilly, but I see no reason why this isn’t a good idea. Right now dialysis patients are waiting for cadaver kidneys, living donors who know them personally, or the rare good samaritan stranger. It just isn’t enough.
You can listen to the episode here: http://adamcarolla.com/bret-ernst The whole show is good, but if you want to skip to the conversation with Josh, it's right around minute 28 of the episode.
Update: April 14th, 2015. As a regular listener to the podcast, I haven't heard a peep since this was mentioned on the show. This blog post, however, has received a regular flow of comments below. I'm sure you'll agree with me that all of them are fishy and most likely spam. I'm not sure the details of how shady people would screw you out of money/kidney, but please use your head and beware. Instead of marking the comments as spam, I'll leave them up as a warning.
As for you people posting about super-terrific-number-one-transplant-hospital below, hear this and hear it well. If your attempts in broken English to offer money for foreign kidney transplants are legit and only seem suspicious due to language barriers, good luck and keep trying. If you're somehow trying to scam people as I suspect you are, you sir/madam are a piece of shit and a horrible, terrible, excuse of a human being. Please kill yourself. That is all.
Update: May 7th, 2015. It got to the point that every day some piece of garbage commented on this post promising big big money for your kidney. I emailed a few of these dopes pretending to be interested and let's just say my thoughts about my fellow man took turn for the worse. It turned off the comments.
Update: June 3rd, 2015. Listening to the show today and Nick and Josh called in. Nick received a kidney over memorial day weekend from 21 year old male who passed away. Adam went on a great rant of why being an organ donor isn't being discussed more and he offered suggestions on how to give people incentive to do so. Thanks, Ace Man.
Discussion starts at 18:00. http://adamcarolla.com/kevin-nealon-3/
Robert Brumm is the author of seven books. He's one kidney short and wouldn't mind a nice fat check in it's place.
This is going to seem like a pretty stupid blog post, so I'm going to let you in on a little secret. This is going to be a stupid blog post.
For some reason that escapes me, I got to thinking about why it is us humans enjoy staring at water. I’m not talking about that bottle of Aquafina on your desk, I mean relaxing on the beach enjoying the ocean view or sitting on the end of the pier in the north woods.
This is where I hear you saying, “There’s nothing complicated to it, dumbass. Water views are beautiful and that’s why people pay through the nose to live in beachside high rise condos.”
Fair enough, but let me disagree a little. Yes, large bodies of water can be beautiful. I live on the shores of Lake Michigan and have witnessed many spectacular sunrises glistening over the water. I’ve seen violent waves on windy days that I could watch for hours. But most of the time? Dullsville. Blue water on blue sky and there ain’t much going on. Wow, is that a gull with a candy bar wrapper in its mouth?
But still, I totally agree it feels good to stare out over the lake and I finally figured out why. You know what else feels good? Staring into a large canyon or a big open field from the top of a hill. Sitting on the back deck of a house in the woods is great, but sitting on the back deck of a house overlooking acres of prairie is even better. A view of central park from the third floor is great. Same view from the 30th floor is even greater.
I think our brains are wired to prefer open space views because that’s what our cave people ancestors needed. After all, how can you expect Grogdak and his wife to relax after a hard day of hunting and gathering in the dense jungle when a predator could be just a few feet away and ready to pounce? I’m sure he preferred to rest perched on top of a cliff, so if something sporting saber teeth and a taste for hairy man flesh was coming, he’d see it a mile away. Ever see an old dude sitting in his driveway staring at the road instead of his cramped back yard and neighbor's house? I rest my case.
So anyway, that’s my theory on why we enjoy looking at lakes, oceans, valleys, and canyons. We’re just upgraded cavemen. I told you this blog post would be stupid.
Robert Brumm is the author of seven books and has a taste for hairy man flesh.
1980. The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t really remember seeing the first Star Wars movie, but catching Episode V on the big screen down at the Rivoli was an experience. This was a time when going to the movies still meant something. Before VHS rentals became DVD rentals became Blueray rentals. Before Netflix and high definition cable. I think most people in my generation have fond memories of seeing at least one of the three original trilogy movies in the theater when they came out. Ever wonder why we’re called Generation X? I’d like to think it has at least a little something to do with the X-Wing.
One of my favorite scenes in Empire was the opening sequence battle on Hoth. I was born and raised in Wisconsin and no stranger to frozen ice planets. One particular frigid morning on the way to school, I had Hoth on my mind. We lived pretty close to Woodview Elementary and it only took me minutes to get there via my moon boots. Five if I hurried, fifteen if I dawdled. Most of the walk consisted of crossing a big field between my school and the middle school.
That morning as I stepped onto the field dressed in my snowsuit, boots, mittens, and ski mask, I wasn’t a student in Mrs. Smith’s first grade class. I was a member of the rebel alliance and didn’t have to imagine the conditions. The snow was deep, the air icy cold, and the wind was merciless. Mighty AT-ATs towered over me. Laser blasts whizzed by my head. One of my comrades in a T-47 Snowspeeder just crashed into a fireball ahead of me. The blaze warmed me for just a second before the wreck was demolished by the foot of a mighty imperial walker.
As I got closer to school, I was Luke Skywalker, wandering aimlessly through the blizzard after escaping the Wampa’s snow cave. Muttering “Ben” under my breath, I staggered and fell to the snow. Got up on my knees, and fell again. “Degobah system…..Ben…..”
Then I jumped up and ran the remaining thirty yards to school because I was freezing my tiny plums off.
I didn’t think too much about the little fantasy that morning until days later. I recall sitting at the kitchen table eating and my mom was telling a story to my dad. I was tuned out, probably pretending I was in the Mos Eisley Cantina, when something my mom said got my attention. She heard second hand from another mom, that a lady saw some poor little boy collapsing in the snow on the way to school the other day. She stopped her car and yelled for the kid to see if he needed help or a ride the rest of the way, but the boy didn’t answer.
I kept my mouth shut as the conversation turned to other boring adult topics. I really didn’t remember any lady yelling for me and I felt guilty that I made her worried because of my stupid make believe session. For all I knew, she might have thought I died of hypothermia or something. It bothered me for days because I was such a sensitive kid. We had lots of sensitive guys on Hoth. Poor bastards. Most of them didn’t make it.
Hey folks. Just a quick note to let you know I set up a store here on the site where you can order signed copies of my paperbacks directly from me. I kept the costs as low as I could while earning a few bucks for myself. Just promise when they're worth thousands you send me a cut.
Now that the dust has settled a little, I feel the need to write about my experience of being a live kidney donor. I’m not doing this to brag or remind people of what a big hero I am (several people used the H word shortly after my surgery and it was embarrassing) but I’m hoping others considering donating will find this article while researching.
I didn’t donate my kidney to a stranger out of the goodness of my heart. Like most donors, this was personal. My wife went into kidney failure over three years ago and was waiting on the transplant for two years. Short of being a dialysis patient myself, I saw first hand just how difficult and miserable the life of a person with dead kidneys can be. My decision to donate my kidney wasn’t heroic or noble and selfless. I simply wanted my wife back.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t donate to my wife directly. The very same day she was approved for transplant, I called the clinic and told them I wanted to donate to her. A short blood test later and I got the bad news: our blood didn’t mix. That was that.
The news was hard to swallow. From day one we always hoped I’d be able to donate to her because it would be the quickest and easiest way.
Fast forward to last year. We waited for a cadaver kidney (average wait two to four years) and went through the crushing disappointment of others who got turned down for donation for various reasons. Good news finally arrived when we learned our hospital joined the paired donation program. As a willing donor, I could give my kidney to a compatible patient and in return my wife Tammy would get the perfect kidney for herself. It took more red tape and more waiting, but finally in September of 2014 we finally had our surgeries. A transplant with a live donor kidney for her, and a nephrectomy got me to give my kidney to somebody else.
So that’s the quick gist of how I came to be one kidney short. If you’re considering giving the gift that can literally give somebody their life back, what can you expect? There is plenty of info out there, but here is my two cents.
The Money - As a donor, you won't get any medical bills for the testing, appointments, surgery, or hospital stay. Not a cent for anything. A couple of bills slipped through the cracks for me, but I just handed them over to the financial lady at the transplant clinic and she took care of it. In my case, my wife was the recipient under my insurance so it came out of the same pocket anyway. But the donor’s costs are always covered by the recipient's insurance.
As far as other costs like travel and lost wages, that’s on you. My time off work was covered by FMLA and I was eligible for short term disability. I can’t predict your financial situation, but in my case it worked out well. If being off work for several weeks would be a deal breaker, don’t underestimate generosity of others. There are many websites out there designed to help people raise money for medical costs through online donations.
The Testing - When I made the first call, the nurse coordinator asked me a set of questions about my health and reasons for wanting to donate. This was the first step of weeding out anybody who isn’t a candidate. I got through that alright and scheduled a blood draw for a simple test to see if my blood mixed well with my wife’s blood. This can usually be done by any medical lab in your area so no travel is required if your patient lives far away.
If the cross matching is successful, (in my case it wasn’t with my wife. Months later, when I was approved for transplant in the paired donation program, I moved forward with the process), you’ll move ahead with more tests and appointments. This includes thorough physicals, xrays, ekg, etc. Nothing too difficult or scary. You’ll also meet with a psychologist and social worker. They want to be sure that you’re a willing donor that made the decision by your own free will and you’re not being pressured in any way.
This is a good segue into a very important point. Through the whole donation process you can back out at any time for any reason. In fact, you don’t even need to give them a reason. The hospital will even go as far as “lying” to your recipient if you don’t want to tell them that you changed your mind. They’ll simply say you didn’t work out as a donor for whatever reason and that’s that. You’ll never sign any sort of contract and you can change your mind right up to the second before they put you under in the operating room.
You’ll also see a donor advocate, financial counselor, pharmacist, and meet with a nephrologist (kidney doc) and surgeon. All these appointments and tests take time of course. Expect several months or longer for all of this.
Finally, if you pass all the tests and exams, and everybody with a degree and a lab coat thinks you are a good candidate to donate a kidney, your case will be presented to the board. Once a week a group of hospital bigwigs meet to review all kidney donors and transplant patients to officially decide if they will go on the list. In my case, I was accepted.
The Surgery - Exactly how you lose your kidney will differ depending on the hospital and preferences of the medical staff. In my case, a Urologist using a robot did my surgery. Five small incisions in my abdomen around my belly button were used for various scopes and laparoscopic tools. A long incision around 6-8 inches right above my “bikini line” was used to pull my kidney out.
The surgery itself wasn’t anything too spectacular. It was the first operation I’d ever had, so I was a little nervous in general. I’d never experienced going under with anesthesia and waking up with holes in my body. They gave me something via IV to relax before I went into the OR and I remember getting moved onto the operating table. That was it. The next thing I knew, a nurse was waking me up in the recovery area.
This will differ from person to person, but I felt just fine in the recovery room. I had very little pain. Once I was moved to my hospital room and the post-surgery meds wore off, the pain started to show up but was never all that great. While I was in the hospital they gave me a mixture of oral narcotic and non-narcotic meds.
My surgery was on a Wednesday and I went home on Saturday. Once I was able to pass gas and use the bathroom for number two, they basically left it up to me when I wanted to go home.
The Recovery - Again, this will differ for everybody, but the pain I experienced was never all that bad. The pain meds kept it manageable and it basically felt like I did way too many sit-ups. Pretty typical for any abdominal surgery.
The biggest challenge was the overall feeling of feeling….shitty. My body went from two fully functional kidneys down to one and it was not happy about that at all. I was tired all the time and just didn’t feel very good. I spent the first week at home sleeping or just lying in bed watching TV and had very little appetite. I lost about ten pounds from not eating very much (nasty hospital liquid diet while I was there didn’t help).
As the days went by I slowly got stronger and felt better. As of this writing, it’s been about 3.5 weeks since my surgery and I finally feel like myself again for the most part. My energy and endurance isn’t 100%, but I’m getting stronger every day. This will vary depending on your age and health, but 3 to 6 weeks is typical recovery time. How long you’ll be off work depends on what you do and how physical it is.
The good news is people with one kidney lead normal healthy lives with virtually no side-effects or consequences, so I’m told. I have no reason to doubt that, although mother nature knows what she’s doing and gave us two for a reason. Time will tell. I have no special instructions other than lead a healthy life and try to stay away from stuff like mixed martial arts or pro football. My dreams of being a starting wide-out for the Packers are over, but I'll learn to live with it.
When I met with my urologist for a follow up visit a couple of weeks ago, he said something that really hit home for me. My surgery was unique because as the patient, it did me absolutely no good whatsoever. I never really thought of that before and I had to laugh. It’s true of course, but the good feeling of what I did will stay with me forever. As a donor in the paired donation program, not only did my wife get a kidney and a new lease on life, but another person did as well. Somewhere out there is a person just like my wife who is walking around with my kidney and I can’t begin to describe how great that makes me feel.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, 100%, yes, a thousand times yes. It was an experience that I’ll never forget and if feels so great to do something so good for somebody else. If you know somebody suffering from kidney disease and chained to a dialysis machine and you’re on the fence, please donate.
If you want to ask me any questions, my virtual door is always open. Please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Everything above is my personal opinion. I’m not a medical professional and I don’t pretend to be. Talk to your doctor and your family.
Well, it happened again. Somehow I managed to write another book. Now it's your job to somehow manage to read it! SWT is a quick read full of action that I hope you'll enjoy. Just the Kindle version is available today, but soon the paperback will be out as well. Check it out!