Growing up, my grandfather helped our family a lot, in spite of the fact that he didn’t like the behavior of me or my sister. As children, my sister and I were not raised to be seen and not heard. Instead, we spoke back to adults and told people what we thought about anything. We also weren’t very good at sitting in a restaurant and being quiet while the adults conversed. At one point, he told my mom that he wouldn’t take us to a restaurant again unless we learned to behave.Continue reading How My Relationship with Grandpa Grew over Time
For a long time, bicycles were an integral part of my life. As a child living in the projects, I had the sweetest black bicycle that I had gotten during a mysterious Christmas. It was a hybrid mountain-road bike that I took everywhere in the HUD housing complex where we lived. When I was on that bike, the world was mine. I could make it do magic. I rode up and down stairs. I went to the neighborhood convenience store and searched the newspaper boxes for spare change. One day, I left my bike outside as I ran into my home to go to the bathroom. When I returned, the bike was gone. “My Life in the Projects” would never be the same.
In high school, I used my ten-speed to get to and from school when the weather permitted. I mostly left it at home when the weather was rainy, but some days, it was nice to have a faster way to get to school. On the weekend, we would use our bikes to go to the park or get downtown. This bike was built for speed and the roads, so sometimes, I would crank up the gears and head out onto the nearest big roads just to race the cars. I’d hit the Arctic Circle up for a lime rickey or a kid’s meal if I had the cash.
This was the time when I learned two good safety lessons. The first was that when riding a bicycle, the rider should always wear closed-toe shoes. We went to see my mom as she floated down the Willamette for some holiday. My sister’s foot slipped of the pedal while her flip-flop remained. Her foot flew back, and her big toe ended up in the spokes of the bike. There was plenty of blood, and my mom had to swim from the boat she was floating on to help my sister.
The second was when we were driving on the main road through town away from I-5. I saw a car hit a boy on a bicycle on a side road. He flipped up over the hood of the car and slammed his head on the windshield. He was then thrown forward and slammed his head on the roadway. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet. The boy crawled to the curbside, and mom turned down the road to see if she could help while we waited for the ambulance to arrive.
The Peace Corps
Once I got my first car, bicycles went by the wayside. It wasn’t until I joined the Peace Corps that bicycles got a new lease in my life. The Peace Corps supplied the bicycle and trained us in how to fix them. This bike was freedom. It allowed me to travel hundreds of kilometers during my service. “My Life in the Peace Corps” was much better for the mobility that the bicycle provided.
While I couldn’t take the Peace Corps bike with me, when I returned to the U.S., I was able to purchase a bicycle. In Kalamazoo during the summer months, it was my only transportation. I would ride to the American Red Cross and use one of their vehicles to get to teaching gigs. When winter rolled around, I had a new job, a new apartment, and a new car. I kept that bike, but I stopped riding. Now, my niece uses it.
Get the Books
If you’d like to read more about “My Life in the Projects,” the book is available on Amazon and here. It’s the mostly true account of living in HUD housing during the 1980s. “My Life in the Peace Corps” will be available on Amazon on Dec. 28, 2020. Pre-order today. Or get the autographed book when it comes out in hard copy.
When I was a child living in the projects in California, mom made sure that we had on vacation every year. She wanted to show her children that there was more to life than abject poverty, pee-yellow housing complexes, and government cheese. Almost all of those vacations consisted of a trip to Disneyland. Sometimes, we would leave at three in the morning, so we could be there when the park opened. We would stay one day. When the park closed, she would drive home stopping at a rest area to get some sleep when she got too tired to drive. She would then go to work the day we got back.Continue reading Why I Still Believe in Santa
As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), one essential place of refuge from life in Africa was under the mosquito net. In 2000, the World Health Organization estimates that malaria killed over 700,000 people worldwide. Peace Corps didn’t want its volunteers to experience malaria or any of its related health consequences. We received insecticide-impregnated mosquito net for our beds, instructions on how to eliminate the mosquito population in our immediate area, and an anti-malarial medication called “Mefloquine.”
When I arrived in Washington, D.C., I wasn’t given any choice as to the type of anti-malarial medication I was to take. No one was. Unless there was a history of allergic reaction or someone had done the research and put up a real fight, all PCVs took mefloquine. It was the preferred medication because it only had to be taken once a week, instead of every day. Peace Corps thought volunteers would be less likely to forget a weekly pill, even though many of us were taking vitamins every day. Most of us were too young or too idealistic to care. We assumed that Peace Corps would want to take care of us and offer the best preventatives available.
I certainly never looked at the possible side effects, and when I heard rumors about them, I just shrugged them off. I’d never experienced severe side effects associated with prescription medications. I didn’t see a need to worry. More importantly, I wanted to get out there to help people. If taking a questionable medication would get me there, I was fine with it.
The Mosquito Net’s Importance
Anti-malarial medication isn’t one hundred percent effective, mostly due to human error. If you forget the medication one or two days in a row, you really want to have a back up plan. The mosquito net was that. It was an impregnable fortress that not only kept mosquitoes from biting you, but also kept other insects out of your most private space – the bed. You might get attacked by anything – scorpions, ants, spiders, snakes, mice, termites, the list is long – but once you were under the mosquito net for the night, you were safe. The mosquito net was also impregnated with insecticide, so it killed any mosquitoes that tried to get to you. When the day was over, you could crawl under the net and rest assured that nothing was getting while you were asleep. Or so I thought.
A Violation of the Mosquito Net
I had just finished reading one night. I put the book down beside my pillow, turned of my reading light, and rolled onto my back. There must have been a full moon that night because I could dimly see the inside of my hut. As my eyes adjusted to the ambient light, I could see more detail. I had tucked in my mosquito net, so I was safe. I could just close my eyes and go to sleep.
There was a scrabbling sound on my thatched roof. It wasn’t uncommon to have some bird or lizard run across the roof, except they weren’t usually active at night. My eyes drifted to the sound. A gray flash ran around the top of the mud walls. It was just a blur; it moved so fast. Then, it crawled on the line attaching my mosquito net to the ceiling. It was a mouse. I wasn’t too worried about it. I was safe under my net.
The mouse dropped down and disappeared. I figured it landed on the floor, and I would deal with it in the morning. I was too tired to be bothered with it now, so I closed my eyes and listened, secure under my net, waiting for sleep to take me. Something rustled I the dark. I ignored it. Then something wriggled underneath me. It was the mouse. I leapt up from the bed and got out from under the mosquito net. I tore the sheets away and saw a cockroach about three inches long in my bed. How’d it get there? I pushed it off the bed, squished it on the floor, and swept it outside to let the ants deal with it. I searched for the mouse but didn’t find it. Uneasily, I crawled back into bed.
Mefloquine’s Side Effects
Peace Corps told us that one of mefloquine’s most common side effects was vivid dreams. They involved all of the senses. Was this one of those dreams? I don’t know. What I can tell you is that I hadn’t slept for about three months. My dreams were so real that it felt like I was living them. I’d wake up tired and irritable. Some days, it would take me a little time to get my bearings and understand which version of the day was reality and which was the dream. I’m sure having a routine saved me from appearing crazier than I already seemed. When I went to the Peace Corps medical staff and told them about it, they calmly said – “Oh, that’s just the medication. Can you take a pill every day?”
“I take vitamins every day, so I can take them together.”
They switched my medication, but even now, I still have days and weeks where my dreams feel more real than real life. I struggle to separate the two until I stand up from my bed – tired and stressed from another restless night. Is that the mefloquine 20 years later? I don’t know, but it sure feels like it.
More from the Peace Corps
While the above is a memory, “My Life in the Peace Corps: Letters from Guinea, West Africa” is directly from my time as a PCV. There is no reconstruction, so you get the information as I lived it and as I sent it home to family and friends. The book will be released on Dec. 28, 2020 in eBook format on Amazon. I will try to publish the paperback on Amazon about that same time. If you want to get it quickly, watch my Facebook page for a link. If you want an autograph, you can pre-order the paperback on Penguinate.com. As soon as I get some copies, I will sign them and send them out. This process will take longer than ordering directly from Amazon because I cannot order them ahead of time.
My wife and I have been trying to outfit our apartment on the cheap while still keeping it homey and having some of our favorite items around to provide happy energy. This has meant multiple trips to the dollar store for strange, new snacks, bathroom accessories, and penguins!Continue reading The Unicorn Penguin with a Chip on Its Beak
I was almost scammed today. Last week, I made inquires about available housing on the coast. After finding out that I wasn’t eligible for a loan because I’m an entrepreneur and the rules changed two years ago to make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to get home loans, I started looking at rental properties. I sent out multiple emails and made several calls. Rental agencies didn’t get back to me. The one that I was able to get on the phone said he had a one-year waitlist for one-bedroom apartments and a three-year waitlist for three bedrooms. I contacted more places and received the same sound of silence.Continue reading If it’s too good to be true… How I Almost Got Scammed
Life has caught up with me too fast, and with a 318-day streak on the line, I’m not sure where my next article is going to come from. I could pull up all of the movie reviews I did in 2012 and recycle them for this website. That, however, is neither very appealing or satisfying for anyone. Still, writing something like this post for the foreseeable future also seems a little problematic.Continue reading Moving, Stress, and Obligations Take the Wind out of My Sails
When I was young, I would go to visit my grandma, and she would make two things for me: lasagna and biscotti. Both were amazing, but at some point, she stopped making the lasagna. Maybe around the time I became vegetarian, but I feel like It was even before then. The biscotti, she just kept making. She would have a bowl full of these beautiful, two-bite, sugar-glazed, anise-kissed cookies that melted in my mouth on every visit. When I got older, I noticed the cookies were missing. Both my grandma and uncle had to go on diets that restricted their sugar intake. That’s when I decided I needed to get grandma’s secret cookie recipe.Continue reading Grandma’s Secret Cookie Recipe (Won’t Be Found Here)
My 30th high school reunion is coming up this year. There is a certain contingent of people trying to get something virtual to happen since it appears travel and gathering in large groups will still be problematic throughout the summer. Of course, this has sent me down memory lane… We were required to take physical education. It was my least favorite class because of the locker room, my lack of skills and size, and I never really improved in athletics. I was more of an art and math guy, though to be fair some of our athletes were also math guys.Continue reading Getting Pwned during High School PE Soccer Class
In the southern hemisphere, there is a legend of a daredevil penguin who would perform great feats of daring. Some people claim to have seen him in action. Others say he stole their equipment. But none of them know the truth. First, those that claimed the penguin was a “he” never did a blood test, so the penguin’s sex remained unknown. Second, most of the feats of the Great Penguini are not the actions of a single penguin, but the actions of several penguins who learned from an early teacher and built on his/her legacy. This is the first feat accomplished by the Great Penguini.Continue reading The Daredevil Penguin: Who Is the Great Penguini?