Monday, June 25, 2001

J. Lara Ha Tomb Digger

Unless you're shot full of morphine, most of us are able to distinguish between a dream and reality. (Being bright enough to perceive the distance between a vision and a dream is a whole other matter best dealt with another day.) Unfortunately that distinction becomes more and more clear the older you get. I used to spend many a day as a youth dreaming about being the star pitcher on my imaginary baseball team. Even after a rough outing or two it seemed inevitable to me that it was only a matter of time before I would be duplicating my feats in the real major leagues.

There came a sad day when I realized that the reality of making it to the major leagues probably was a tad unrealistic especially since you don't see many five foot five pitchers blowing smoke past big league hitters. This season an even harsher reality settled into my foggy noggin- that for the first time ever every player on the Twins is younger than I am.

There have been equally disheartening moments along the way when similar ambitions fell by the wayside: hosting the Tonight Show; becoming a world-renowned pianist; being dubbed the world's fastest human; becoming a world class butter sculpturer. Yes giving up belief in each took a little out of me and it was a hard lesson unlearning the lesson taught to all young children that if you put your mind to it anything is possible. That's a bunch of bunk.

Your heart does harden a little after every disappointment and though there's no set number carved in stone, the infamous mythical organ can only be broken a certain number of times before thankfully things don't matter as much anymore.

Still it was somehow reassuring how a couple recent items in the news demonstrate, the medical profession continues to work on technology to assist those of us with chronic heart maladies.

A couple of weeks ago the Associated Press reported that doctors have developed a new alternative to open heart bypass surgery where they use a vein to take the place of a blocked artery. The procedure, called percutaneous in-situ coronary venous arterialization (PICVA), requires no anesthesia and can be done in a couple of hours, with the patient released from the hospital the following day. In contrast, traditional bypass surgery and angioplasty require that a patient's chest be opened and the heart temporarily stopped, and blood vessels have to be harvested from another part of the body for use. Another new procedure called a septal ablation or a forced heart attack is used to treat hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, or an overgrowth of the heart muscle that restricts the flow of blood from the left ventricle to the aorta resulting in severe shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.

Nakinagara aruku, hitoribotchi no yoru.

Speaking of plumbing procedures another of my childhood fantasies came crashing down all around me this past week. I always just assumed that one day I would be married with two children (appropriately dubbed Dave Jr. and Elisabeth Filarski) and would own a house in the suburbs. The picture in my mind wasn't much more specific than that but home ownership with an accompanying family just seemed to be what people do when they grow up.

Well a few years back when I was actually secure (financially and as emotionally as I can get) enough to afford a house I considered it a major achievement to be able to buy my little brick sided two bedroom in the lovely Como Park area. But with home ownership (are you paying attention Ms. LeAnn?) comes the realization that the axiom of there's always something to be worked on, is perhaps the truest thing anyone has ever uttered.

The yard work is difficult enough (and I've been awfully lucky this year to have a Dad who is willing to do a lot of the yard upkeep and a neighbor who doesn't have a problem plowing my sidewalk after a major snow storm) but the inside issues can be a tad overwhelming.

First off I'll be the first to admit when it comes to home decor I'm the ultimate faker. I don't think a visitor has ever uttered my standard phrase when entering someone else's home: "I like what you've done with the place..." My furniture tends to be stuff people have given to me (or unloaded depending on your point of view). None of it matches, none of it is that comfortable but all of it is mostly functional. I don't have much of an ego to worry about but even I tend to be embarrassed enough by my college frat boy decorating skills that I don't invite many people over. When the highlight of your home tour is your pink old ladies bathroom, then it's hard to describe your place as a swinging bachelor's pad.

Being a bad decorator is one thing but being a hapless handy repair guy can make your feel as small as that little boy that thought owning a home was just a natural part of the future picture. Last week my Dad gave me a free energy efficient showerhead Xcel Energy mailed to him. As I went to install the device I noticed that the end of the pipe coming out of my bathroom wall was not the same size as the connecting part of the showerhead. So I moseyed on down to the neighborhood hardware store where the guys are extra surly. Like a lost man in a foreign land I wandered around the store until I found the plumbing aisle. I looked through the rows of pipes and the tools and found what appeared to be what I needed, a showerhead adapter. I wasn't sure the size was right but the package proudly proclaimed it to be the "American Standard." So I plunked my five dollars on the counter and returned home. The adapter fit the showerhead but not my existing plumbing. Seems that my pipes must be from Saudi Arabia or something.

The whole experience brought another pertinent question to mind: how does an energy saving showerhead work? The water pressure is reduced but isn't the same amount of water making its way through my Irish pipes? Hmmmm. Luckily my Dad was able to figure out that my existing pipe already had some type of adapter attached and by removing that piece the showerhead fit snuggly in place.

The next morning I went to turn on the lights so as to not be so much in the dark. I hit the switch, heard a fizzing sound as the light flickered briefly and soon smelled an electrical burning odor. Call me paranoid but all I could picture was the wiring inside my walls ablaze and coming back home to a charcoal pile of rubble. Mr. Max remained asleep however and the walls didn't feel hot so I went to work as I always seem to be doing these days.

All day long I worried about the state of electricity and feline safety and was relieved to see things the same as always went I got home. My brother in law came over, cleaned out the switch, tightened the connections and things now seem to be back to normal.

But the experiences left me feeling rather helpless when it comes to simple house maintenance. It was suddenly very clear what has been make believe and what is remaining, staring me in the face.


It had been three years since the aging softball player had made a true friend. It wasn't so much he was afraid of reaching out and sharing but rather it was more of a case of needing to withdraw and merely function for a while. It was a self inflicted implosion but at the same time he had just recently shared more than ever before and to see a rather indifferent reaction sent him spinning in a rather self defeated way.

It took his 20 year old nephew to get the aging softball player hooked on a less than trendy habit: downloading music off the Internet and rediscovering the music and muse of his youth. When he was a child his proudest possession was a collection of 45's his family had accumulated over the years that he had memorized each label, each scratch, each groove as he replayed the songs taking note of all the words. When he was in grade school his parents gave him his most memorable gift, a pretend radio station that included a turntable, microphone and erasable charts to write down the daily schedule of the Sears produced radio corporation, WQSR. He recorded hours upon hours on his 8-track system using fake voices mimicking the standard- from the spunky morning crew to the mellow midnight spinner.

One of the last meaningful conversation the aging softball player had with his dying mother was her telling him she still had those 8-track tapes and she wished he still had a system to play the nostalgic tapes on. He couldn't forget. Not letting anyone close, bearing down and focusing on his work, remaining the perpetual outsider he would sometimes look up long enough in the winding tunnels under the State Capitol to search others' eyes. And sometimes he'd remember a song or two. "A little bitty tear let me down, spoiled my act as a clown I had it made up not make a frown, but a little bitty tear let me down."

The aging softball player found himself at a real house, an immaculately planned Eagan estate. It was the kind of place that it didn't seem at all out of place to play croquet and bocce ball so the group he was with did. Between shots and rolls they sipped on hard lemonade. He had somehow allowed himself to get close to a couple of the players that had been temporary employees at his workplace. It was a day to say good-bye and celebrate their work, and it all felt like the days of graduation and leaving classmates behind.

He had a mentor like relationship with the green belted kick boxing waltzing Matilda shared survivor that at times reminded him delightfully of his old self. She was aloof and it was somewhat a part of their routine which one would speak to the other first when they arrived in the morning. He thought about all the lunches shared, all the questions asked, all the details shared and he realized he had let her get too close and now she was soon (too soon) to be gone from his day to day vision. After the final shots were played he waved good-bye to her and wondered what could possibly come next. "I said I'd laugh when you left me/Pull a funny as you went out the door/That I'd have another waiting/And I'd wave goodbye as you go."

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