Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

“You Talkin’ To Me?”

I am going to use several movie references for this post.

In the movie “Taxi Driver,” actor Robert DeNiro is rehearsing some sort of dialogue he intends to have during a pending conflict. I am paraphrasing the lines, as he is looking in a mirror, repeating, “you talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? (He looks around himself) I don’t see nobody else here, so you must be talkin’ to me. I’m standing here. You talkin’ to me?”

One of my favorite comedy movies, with clearly the greatest one-liners, is Airplane. Throughout the entire movie, an air traffic controller played by the late great Lloyd Bridges, states the many vices he had given up, but during the crisis currently involved in, has relapsed with all of them from smoking to “sniffing glue.” The meme I have posted is my own, and will explain shortly.

As it turns out, my grandmother had actually prepared me for this particular day, more than forty-five years later. A smaller than average kid, I was an easy target for bigger kids looking to make an image or reputation known, for being tough, a bully. Not only was I small, but I was also shy, and then the worst of it, clothing I wore, bought by my grandmother, definitely was not cool or trendy. I had all the trademarks of an easy mark.

My grandmother had an interesting way to deal with the various efforts of bullying and taunting. “Just turn the other cheek, and walk away.” While clearly my size was against me, this strategy failed miserably, as I just got attacked from behind.

As an adult, I understand why she said what she did. It clearly did not help the situation though. In conversations with my daughters I have used my own philosophy, “a fire will only burn if you keep putting wood on the fire.”

Indeed, very “Mr. Miagi”-sounding, of course referencing the original “Karate Kid.” Yes, Gen Z-ers and millenials, there was a movie series prior to Cobra Kai. Focus Paul-son.

Getting back to my meme with Bridges, and the Coke reference, I found myself referencing all three movies the other night. And while I am sure I will hear from fellow cancer survivors and friends, all with their recommendations of the many other uses for Coca-Cola besides ingestion, none the less, that is what has triggered this post.

I walked into the convenience store, not like the Sac-O-Suds in “My Cousin Vinny”, though I have to wonder, was it much different given the mentality of the store clerk I was dealing with?

I needed to purchase some gas for my Camry, not a 1964 Buick Skylark, and while doing so, grabbed a bottle of Coke. I really should not be drinking it for several reasons, and have quit many times before, but at this point, was off the wagon.

Between me and the clerk, were sheets of plexiglass suspended over the counter, the purposes of protecting both clerk and customer during the Covid19 pandemic. In full disclosure, my hearing is often questioned, whether selective or actually failing. But in this particular moment, I am pretty sure my hearing was spot on.

I put my bottle of Coke on the counter and explained that I would like to put $20 of gas into my car. That was it. No other small talk, clearly neither of us were interested in that.

How is this for a reference? From “Dude, Where’s My Car?”… “and then?”


And odd thing for the clerk to utter, and honestly, I thought like many other clerks, who work with ear buds in the ears, he was likely listening to something and simply reciting along with it. But as I said, with my hearing, I was not sure what I was hearing, though it sounded like a sheep sound. And then he did it again.


Now, I could probably post a snapshot from the movie Clerks for this, but that movie was funny. What was happening right at this moment, was not.

As I looked around me, like DeNiro in “Taxi Driver”, there were four other people in the store besides the clerk and I. They all shared one thing in common, and different from me.

I was wearing a mask. They were not. I was 95% certain, this clerk was trying to provoke me. I was not sure what I had heard the first time, I was 100% certain after the second sound. And then… as if more confirmation was needed, Floriduh man behind the counter started putting words together, the first word I heard being “Covid.”

At that point, I knew what was happening, and unlike the lesson my grandmother had taught me, which never worked, I replied very DeNiro-like, “excuse me?” At that point, the clerk now looked up, had stopped mumbling his crap. I repeated myself, “are you talking to me?”, making him clearly aware that I had heard his provocation.

This jackass was making a reference that I was a “sheep” or “sheeple”, because I was wearing a mask, recommended in helping to prevent getting infected by Covid19, and from spreading it to others. Clearly, he was one that did not believe in wearing a mask, and the fact that the remainder of people in the store did not have masks, made him more brave to take a shot at me.

In fairness, this dope had no idea that I wear a mask, as one of the more vulnerable people to Covid19, having a compromised immune system, as well as other co-morbidities related to my cancer survivorship. And that is none of his business, just as my decision to wear a mask or not, just as it is none of my business whether he wore one or not.

He did not respond to me after I called him out. I grabbed my soda, and went out of the door to pump my gas. And then I steamed. I did exactly as my grandmother once taught me. As I child, I never understood the benefit to walking away other than I was not going to get my ass kicked. But, as an adult, I was getting more mad. I do not like leaving things unresolved. I was provoked. I wanted closure.

This situation is different than just a conversation between two people sitting in a bar, or passing by on the street. The was during a business transaction between customer and employee. And while I understand that employees can have cranky days, and end up reflecting that on the customers, this was not the situation.

Representing his employer, this putz decided to exercise his free speech, and acknowledge the division in our country over whether the wearing a mask is appropriate or control. I have long given up on this debate, especially after two years. After two years, we are where we are because of the decisions both sides have made, and hopefully not worse. But it is unlikely that any large percentage of people will change their minds as to their stance. If science is correct, which I believe in science, like the other viruses I have faced in my life during my survivorship, I will get through the pandemic. Sadly, too many still will not, yet to come. And then… for those who made the claim that Covid19 was “just like the flu,” will finally be able to make that claim, because like the flu, Covid19 will not be going anywhere. One major difference, is the number of people Covid19 has killed, and did not have to be that way.

We are divided, there is no doubt. And an employee like this does not help. And while I risk a “Karen” reference, which will not be allowed because I am only using movie references in this post, I did speak to the owner, who agreed that he did not want this issue having an impact on his business.

And with that, my final movie reference.

Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. We know the difference masks make. We know the political inference by those opposed to wearing them. We are who we are. And just like Mr. Vernon in “The Breakfast Club” had to do, we have to just accept we are who were are in the world of Covid19.

A Tragedy Prevented?

The outrage is to be expected and has not disappointed. The lack of empathy, humanity is not disappointing. The level of stupidity would give Charles Darwin another great case study. The fact that this is not an isolated event is heartbreaking.

The details of the event, as they were being reported in real time, began vague, and unfortunately misleading. There was an attack at a zoo. A woman had been attacked by a tiger, was originally reported. It would be natural for readers to believe that it was likely an caretaker or handler, even thought there are procedures in place meant to prevent such accidents. Then the details got strange. It was a cleaning person, making no reference to gender, leaving readers to still think it was a woman. But now the question was, “how does a cleaning person get attacked by a tiger?” The final identification of the evening described a male, working for a “3rd party cleaning company,” in other words, a sub-contractor hired by the contractor, hired by the zoo to clean its gift shop and restrooms. Now the obvious question. How in the Hell did this individual get attacked by a tiger in the zoo.

Of course, as authorities had been called, local sheriff deputies had not idea, if the tiger had escaped its enclosure, to attack the individual. The area around the zoo is very populated, and who knows what could have happened, had that been the case. But we do know what happened. It was caught on video.

This is a still shot of the tiger enclosure during the incident, towards the conclusion. The body cam footage itself is so tragic and way too graphic, but it is in its entirety. I was shocked that it was released so quickly. But the video shows officers arrive at the zoo, closed for the day nearly two hours earlier, assumed all staff departed, now greeted by one zoo employee. The officer runs back to the tiger enclosure, in pitch darkness, the light of his flashlight his only way to see where he is going.

When the officer arrives near the pen, he can hear the screams of a victim. As he arrives, there is an individual on the ground, feet propped up against the chain link fence, using any and all strength, to prevent being pulled in further into the enclosure. Now, while you are wondering how does someone get pulled into a chain link enclosure, this individual, and it is not being explained what he was actually doing, was either attempting to feed or pet this tiger, and reached his hand through one of the links. And the tiger naturally reacted. This was no attack and I resent it being called that.

It needs to be noted, this individual climbed over the first prevention to get to the tiger enclosure, then stuck his hand through the cage. But I have several other questions. The 9-1-1 call was placed by him, as there was no one else at the zoo. Is there video or are there photos on his camera of his stupid stunt in today’s TikTok world? The individual was to be only in the gift shop area to clean and its bathrooms, no where near the tiger enclosure. How did he gain access to the rest of the preserve? While this individual worked for a contractor, what responsibility does this company have in this event?

I got sidetracked. Assistance from other offers and emergency personnel quickly arrived with the officer. Not having access to any of the equipment zoo personnel would have at their disposal for such an incident, they bravely did what they could to distract the tiger, to release the man’s arm, firmly trapped in the tiger’s mouth. From kicking the fencing to shouting, the tiger would not release the bloody piece of food it had in its mouth.

And I want to be clear, I do not fault the officer at all with what happened next. But what does piss me off, is the reaction of the man (and notice, I refuse to call him a victim), the officer states, “I am going to have to shoot the tiger.” The man shouts back, “SHOOT IT! SHOOT IT!”, begging for his life that he foolishly put in this position. In the darkness, the officers fires one shot, hitting the tiger, who then runs off to the back of his enclosure, freeing up the individual and he is removed and transported to a nearby hospital.

While unable to locate the tiger in the darkness, they would eventually locate the wounded animal, who would later succumb to the gunshot wound. There are all kinds of “Monday morning quarterbacking” going on in this case, as to things the officer could have done differently, there was nothing. Even firing a warning shot in the dark, could cause a ricochet hitting another person. Where were zoo personnel who would have had access to emergency tranquilizer equipment that could have been used instead? The truth is, only one thing could have prevented this ending, and it started not just with the perpetrator, but the zoo itself.

Make no mistake, the zoo itself, while I am no fan of captive animals, do serve a purpose in helping to preserve, rescue, rehabilitate, and educate about various species. I have been to this zoo several times as I live in the area, and I have seen Eko, a beautiful rare Malayan tiger.

So rare is this tiger, there are just over 200 left in the world. Now there is one less.

There are investigations on many levels going on now, including by the zoo itself. It is nationally accredited and recognized by the Association Of Zoos and Aquariums (how they came about having Eko in the first place as part of the Species Survival Plan), and is a member of the American Association Of Zoo Keepers.

If this event sounds familiar, it should. Do you remember Harambe?

Harambe was a lowland gorilla that was killed, when a small child, unattended by its parent(s), not paying attention, had climbed into the gorilla’s enclosure. To save the child’s life, which likely the gorilla would have taken, the gorilla was shot and killed.

Many do not like zoos at all for one reason, that they do not feel animals belong captive. I do see the big picture that in some cases, and I have been to several, the zoos are about conservation and preservation. But the most important part of that goal, is PROTECTION. And now, at least in my knowledge, I am aware of two such examples that we have failed to protect these rare and beautiful animals, from the stupid and selfish acts.

I am not likely to return to this zoo, as my disappointment is immeasurable. In a bank, ALL of the money is secured when a cleaning company comes into the bank. There is no chance of a worker walking off with cash. Why in the Hell, if there would be no zoo personnel present, after hours, while an outside contractor was supposed to be restricted to the main entrance part of the zoo, did this individual get back into the living habitats of the many animals kept on the outside of the structure he was limited to? Why was there no zoo supervision? So many questions.

Yes, there is outrage for Eko. And there should be.

Yes, there is lack of empathy for the individual responsible for this tragic loss of such a beautiful animal. The comments, in a good majority, claim that the officer shot the wrong target, should have let the tiger finish the guy off, while a small group of people offer a more peaceful and humane support of the wounded contractor. While I do not wish harm on anyone ever, I cannot find any space currently, in my heart for this individual and his stupidity. He will recover, his arm permanently maimed. But for those who got to see Eko in person, and even more difficult, those who were his handlers, this is a tragic loss that did not need to happen.

What’s In A Number?

This is a boring meme that showed up across social media in recent weeks. I do not usually reply to these things, especially the ones that pretty much end up being password related. But admittedly, this one did kind of have me curious.

I am recognizing a birthday today. I do not celebrate them anymore, I just let them happen. I prefer no fanfare. The truth is, I consider myself lucky to still be here considering everything that my body has been through, due to the treatments that saved my life from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over 32 years ago.

But I decided to give this one a go, just as a lighter post. Of course, when the meme came out, as I was at the age of 55, flipping the numbers did nothing. I remained 55 years old. Boring. And now I am heading into the upper half of my fifties. To be honest, nothing would thrill me more than to be on the lower half of this decade of my life, to get another crack during those times. I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on those younger decades.

I will skip my 5th year of birth, as I know there was nothing remarkable about my first year in school as a kindergartener, except that I was small, and some remark “oh how cute!”. Apparently, I was also a blonde.

At 15, I switched high schools. While it was somewhat intimidating, the opportunities given to me at my new school, allowed my life to take much different paths than what I had been going previously and I definitely do not think things would have turned out better. I will always remember the new friends that came into my life, as I am still friends with them today, more than forty years later.

At 25, I was beginning my life as a cancer survivor. That year was filled with constant fears of my cancer coming back. Wanting to move forward with my life, I got married to my fiance who had stood by me during my battle with what was called back then, Hodgkin’s Disease. I had resumed working. I was ready to get back to some sort of normalcy.

Age 35 was a transition year for me. My first marriage had ended, devastating as I had so much wanted to have a family, and this would likely reduce the chances of that happening. (spoiler alert – a second marriage not in my “five” years, I would end up blessed with two amazing daughters)

I experienced my first and so far, my only kidney stone at age 45. I had been put on a calcium supplement to deal with one of the late side effects from my cancer treatments, for a diagnosis of osteopenia and facet joint arthritis in my lower back. This was discovered during a medical work up for long term cancer survivor health issues, discovered in 2008, when I had to have emergency open heart surgery (see “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable). And yes, the pain of that large kidney stone, was worse pain than that of my open heart surgery.

55 is an interesting year as it has been somewhat uneventful, well, perhaps better described as par for the course as I dealt with two more issues related to my treatments. But, as usual, I have gotten through both.

Aside from that, 55 has a much darker cloud looming over it. On my father’s side of the family, longevity is not in our genes. Of my father and his four siblings, only he and his one brother lived past 55, both making it to 70. Ironically, as my father lay dying from lung cancer, he actually said, “all I want to do is make it to 70,” and he did, just like his brother. But the other siblings, and his mother passed away in their late 40’s and early 50’s. This alone rents enough space in my head as I have hit this milestone of 55, and then, factor in all the trauma my body has gone through health wise since 2008, a lot. I do not have good longevity odds.

So yes, I recognize my birthday each year. It is hard to celebrate, when I know the odds of a next birthday get harder and harder.

As I turn 56, let’s flip that number. I would be 65. Why is this number significant to me, besides approaching retirement age? Besides being only the third in the last three generations to reach this age, there is a bigger plan. And it is this plan that drives me. I want to get to age 65.

My doctors who care for the multiple health issues from my treatments concede that they cannot reverse what is happening to my body, and they cannot stop them. There are some issues that can be slowed down, and some that can be repaired, albeit temporarily (needing to be fixed again later on). But knowing about these issues, is half the battle. Dealing with them is the other half of the plan. And that plan is this. I want to see my daughters grow into adulthood. I want to attend my daughters high school graduations. If my daughters choose to go to college, I want to witness their graduations. If my daughters choose to get married, I want to walk my daughters down the aisles. And my final wish, would be to hear the name “grandpa” or whatever my daughters would have their children refer to me as. This promise had been made to me over 13 years ago, and I now have one daughter graduating from high school this year, and the other next year. If I have my way, and keep my attitude, my 65th year will be my greatest.

In all honestly, I do not expect to see 75 or 85, definitely not 95, whether genetics or cancer survivorship issues. But I seriously want to get to 65. It is not going to be easy as I know I will see at the least, several more surgeries, and likely additional diagnosis. I am okay with that as I am living each day, the best that I can, no regrets.

This was a hell of a writing prompt my writing coach would have been proud of. I miss having her weekly prompts. This was fun.

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