Too many weeks “like this”

hitting things

sky's The LimitIn response to my most recent request to Ask Roger Anythingfillyjonk writes: Green says “I hope I don’t have a lot more weeks like this” after having several people in his life die and wow, I have had WAY too many weeks “like this” these past couple years. (ANOTHER friend at church lost her husband on Saturday). I’ve stared into the abyss altogether too much these past few years but find I have few answers

While I’m unclear whether it is an actual question or an observation, the narrative is compelling enough to try – emphasis on TRY – to answer it. The short answer is that I don’t know. Sometimes, I feel that I don’t know anything. But I keep throwing things against the wall, hoping some of them stick.

Releasing the rage

For one, I yell at the television when certain people are saying… the polite term is BS. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating perhaps from 2015. Lindsay Graham, for instance, is far more frustrating to me than people who are always awful, like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Josh Hawley. After expelling the anger, I feel better. No harm is done. Furniture and people are intact.

Recently, I mentioned to Arthur that a Dear Abby letter actually enraged me, much to my surprise. Basically, a family member thought another in his tribe was grieving for too long. She had “overstayed her time on the pity potty.” Abby for her part disagreed with the letter writer. Having allowed myself to be angry, it dissipated.

For far too long, I had tended to try to suppress my anger as “not nice” until I would blow a gasket. One needs to release the steam from the radiator.

Boy, I miss playing racquetball. That was a really good release of tension, hitting a bouncy thing with a fancy stick. I’m reminded that when I got really perturbed, I would find a stick, maybe a tree branch that had fallen, and strike it against a telephone pole or another item unlikely to be damaged. Therapeutic.

Can’t nothing be love but love 

On a Vlogbrothers post titled Motivation in Hard Times, John Green noted that he used to operate out of anger and resentment. And for a while, that worked for him. He showed up his old writing teacher who said he wasn’t good enough to be in his class. Ha! He had books published and then turned into movies. But ultimately, and he is a tad embarrassed by it, hesky's The Limit says it comes down to love.

In February, Dua Lipa interviewed Stephen Colbert on his show. She asked him about his faith. He said it’s “‘connected to the idea of love and sacrifice being somehow related and giving yourself to other people.'”

Surely, love is the optimal route. Yet you also need to find a term that’s become almost a cliche, self-care, whatever that is. It might be playing with stuffed animals or listening to music or reading comic books or getting a massage. Writing helps me somewhat. It’s naturally different for everyone.

I wish you well.

My friend Mike Attwell, RIP

lives by the spring

mike attwell croppedI don’t remember exactly when I met Mike Attwell – the late 1980s or early 1990s – but I certainly know where. My friend, the late Norm Nissen,  and I played racquetball at the Albany YMCA on Washington Avenue.

Some combination of Danny, Charlie, Mike, and his co-worker Alan wanted to know if we wanted to play games with partners, two on two; or cutthroat, in groups of three.  We did, and from that point until 2010, when the Y closed, we all played about thrice a week with whoever showed up, which eventually included Tyrone and others.

You learn a lot about a person when you play racquetball with them. Mike wasn’t the fastest guy; that’d be Tyrone. Or the best (Danny or Charlie). But he may have been the most tenacious. When we played as partners, he’d almost always play the front, because he anticipated well and could get to a lot of shots.

But, in the earlier days, he was also the hardest on himself, often spouting an invective that included MF, always at himself. Interestingly, I think he played better after he stopped the cursing.

After the Y closed, he occasionally drove me to Siena College so we could play with some of the others, but it fell by the wayside.

Singing

In 2000, when I started attending First Presbyterian Church, I got to sing with Mike. I might have participated in a FOCUS service or two with him, but this was the first time on a weekly basis. 

You learn a lot about a person when you sing with them.  Mike, a tenor, was usually present unless he was traveling. He worked hard to get his part right. When the weather was lousy, he’d sometimes give me a ride home after choir rehearsal.

I got to see him in other aspects of church life, notably on the finances. He explained to the congregation the fiscal responsibility of the use of the endowment. This could be MEGO territory, but Mike, who dealt with numbers for New York State, explained it amazingly well. 

In August of 2003, he married Sue, again. They’d been married in a private ceremony six months earlier. But as the pastor noted at the time, they wanted to have a public event so their church family could be witnesses.

At the reception, Mike was discussing a nice resort in Poland Springs, ME that he thought my wife and I should go to. It didn’t allow anyone under 18. (I believed they’ve since changed that rule.) We went that very month and had a lovely time. No one knew yet that my wife was pregnant, so it was a particularly sound suggestion.  

Bible guys

After I retired in 2019, I joined the Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. group of Bible Guys. But when COVID hit, my daughter’s school was remote, so she didn’t need to get up as early. The two groups then operated on something called ZOOM(?), so I ALSO joined the Thursday at 7 a.m. gathering.

Mike Attwell was in that Thursday group. He shared a lot of his personal biography, from his roots to certain difficulties in his past. I did not know this: The meaning of Attwell is “lives by the spring”, as in water, which seems apt.

Though the facilitator rotated, it was always Mike, who introduced the group to John van de Laar, offering prayer by the liturgist. I suppose if I were to pick one for Mike, who died last week, it might be this one, which begins:

In the midst of grief, we choose to celebrate,

because it reminds us of hope,

and brings comfort to our broken heart.

Norm Nissen (1958-2016)

Norm was a great hugger.

Norman.toast
I always thought of Norman as a surprise. He was this bear of a man, who might have been a Viking warrior at a different time. He was farm-boy strong. I learned that many years ago when he accidentally put a Roger-sized hole in the baseboard of our mutual friend Bill Anderson’s apartment.

He had that young man with the gray-to-white hair as long as I’ve known him. He wore it well. I met him, as did a few of us gathered at his funeral, at FantaCo, the comic book shop shop on the first block of Central Avenue, where Broome and Bill and I all worked at some point in the 1980s or ’90s.

I specifically remember the surprise party that was thrown for Norm on his 30th birthday party. Almost all the presents had a bovine theme.

He was this farm boy with a sometimes goofy grin, who was book smart. I could always count on him to make, sometimes unsolicited, great recommendations about what to read, which is why he was so good at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza or its Troy location, Market Block Books, where he worked for many years.

It was difficult to try to explain Norm Nissen to other people, except to say that Norman was the GUY. He was the best man for Carol’s and my wedding in 1999. You WANTED Norm Nissen to be your best man. Not only did you KNOW he wouldn’t forget, or lose, the rings, but that he would be a steadying influence on the nervous groom.

I had a shed that needed deconstruction a couple years, and of course, he had the tools, which he brought to me. He brought this young man with him, who had a beard and a deep voice. It turned out to be his son Sam. I can’t keep track of the number of times Norm mentioned that Sam and I were roommates, when I was in the midst of a romantic breakup in 1994, and that Norm and Jay let me stay in Sam’s room for a couple of weeks.

Though I only needed the tools for less than a month, he hadn’t picked them up until nearly a year later. Norm and I sat on the front porch of my house, just talking for over an hour. He was my sounding board, as he always had been.

Norm was such a sweet guy. A couple years ago, my wife and I were talking with our friend Bonnie, who, unfortunately, died last year. She worked at the Bruegger’s Bagels in Stuyvesant Plaza, and she was going on how nice the folks from the Book House were, but ESPECIALLY this guy named Norm.

For a lot of years, we played racquetball, three, four, even five times a week, at the Albany YMCA on Washington Avenue in Albany, only a block from the comic book store. We played regularly from the late 1980s until March of 2010, when they, most unfortunately, closed the place. We played sporadically at Siena after that, but it wasn’t the same.

You get a sense of a person when you play racquetball with someone regularly. A friend of Norm’s, who I know as well, wrote on Facebook that he was going to miss the big galoot, and I appreciated the sentiment. Still, I looked up the standard definition of galoot, and it is “a clumsy or oafish person”. The example: “I was expecting the big galoot to trip over his own feet.” Yet, in his racquetball prime, he was surprisingly quick and agile, and smart.

We used to play this guy who made questionable calls in his own favor, a minister, as it turns out. This used to irritate ME. But instead of getting upset with him, Norm would redouble his effort to whup him on the court.

For a number of years, there was a coterie of us who’d show up at the Y, Danny, Charlie, Mike, Alan, Tyrone. Depending on numbers and arrival times, we would play one-on-one, or three of us in a game of cutthroat, or four of us playing partners. Norm was facile no matter what the game. I loved as a partner, because we developed an often unspoken strategy of how best to cover the court.

Norman was funny. He laughed easily. His humor tended to be self-deprecating, and it was almost never mean. Recently, he was talking with my wife. He had indicated that his daughter Abby was going to go to Europe with a friend, but the friend got sick, so now Abby’s going with her mother. Somehow my wife thought she meant going with the FRIEND’S mother, rather than Abby’s mother, Jay. They both laughed for five minutes.

You know how you say you’re going to get together, but you never do? Well, my wife arranged so that Norm and Jay, and my family got to finally go out to eat this past March at the Old Daley Inn. We had a marvelous time. I paid, only because I had a vague recollection that I probably owed him dinner from some racquetball bet. We played pretty evenly most of the time, but when wagers were made, he was almost always victorious. We agreed that, once he had knee surgery, we could get back to playing again; alas, it was not to be.

Norm was this sweetheart of a guy. The only time I could predictably get under his skin was to start singing the song Norman by Sue Thompson – peak Billboard position # 3 in early 1962. It went “Norman , ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh. Norman, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm.” He HATED that song; his aunt told me she used to sing it to him when he was young, and he hated it even then. Listen to the song Norman HERE or HERE.

Finally, Norm was a great hugger. The problem now is that I could really use one of his bear hugs right about now.

Norm Nissen died last week in his sleep at the age of 57. Here’s a lovely article in the Times Union, written by Paul Grondahl.

Invocation of Peace by Fiona Macleod, read at Norm’s funeral.

 

John.Mark.Roger.Norm
Pictures from May 15, 1999 – TOP: Norm giving the toast; BOTTOM: my brother-in-law John Powell (d. 12 Feb 2002), my college friend Mark, me, and Norm.

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