Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I Lost My Ice Cream Cone Mojo

One reason I love summer is ice cream cones: soft serve, hard, even frozen yogurt. But it takes a certain amount of dexterity to eat a cone. Not only must I hold it in my hand and bring it up to my mouth, but I have to rotate it every once in a while, or the ice cream will drip off one side. I noticed a few months ago that the rotating part had become difficult. I cut way back on my consumption this summer because I lost my confidence. I lost my ice cream cone mojo.

Here in Maine, fall is settling in. On the way back from running errands with Kim last night, we drove by Dairy Queen, and I felt the urge to get my last cone of the season (man-child that I am). Kim rolled her eyes at my request, but she pulled in and ordered me a small chocolate soft serve (kindhearted woman that she is).

Mmmm. It tasted so good. After I had taken a couple of licks, it was time to spin the cone to the other side. Nope. Didn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. My fingers just can’t pull off that maneuver anymore. Kim wasn't able to help me because she was already driving and texting and had a cone of her own.

Just kidding. She didn't have a cone of her own.

No, seriously. She did have an ice cream cone but she would never text and drive under any circumstances. She can, however, text and eat, text and drink, text in a clockwise direction while rubbing her belly in a counterclockwise direction, and I'm quite sure she can text and sleep.


Because this was a small cone, I managed to get the ice cream down to the level of the top of the cone without ever rotating it, but it wasn’t pretty. At that point, I gently bit the cone, supported it in my mouth temporarily, then rotated my hand a few degrees. I managed to spin the cone 360° in the series of about six bites. I did this at two levels until the cone was down to the bottom section. Then, I executed the grand finale of ice cream cone consumption. I stuffed the bottom of the cone into my mouth all at once. By then, the ice cream had melted the perfect amount, and it occupied all of the honeycomb-type spaces in the base of the cone. If someone opened an ice cream stand and served nothing but the bottom inch of the ice cream cone, I would be their most dedicated customer.

In the grand scheme of things that I’ve lost—walking, typing, driving, etc.—eating an ice cream cone is relatively unimportant. Plus, there are still several other ways I’ll be able to satisfy my occasional ice cream urges. It’s that last inch of the cone, however, that I’m going to miss. There’s only one way to get there, and I can’t do it anymore.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boston’s 2016 Abilities Expo — A Feel-Good Name if There Ever Was One

Screw it. I use the word disability. In fact, I just did a quick search of my book manuscript, and I found it 73 times. When I employ grammar checking software, called Grammarly, and it encounters the word disabled, it highlights it as “politically incorrect language,” and suggests physically challenged as a replacement. No thank you. I’m sticking with disabled.

On Saturday, Kim and I trudged down to Boston to check out the 2016 Abilities Expo, a tradeshow for those businesses and organizations, for-profit and charitable, dedicated to making our lives better. I’m in the market for my next power wheelchair, and all the wheelchair manufacturers were exhibiting (except the next-generation iBOT people). The photo on the right shows me in one standing wheelchair beside a picture of another standing wheelchair. I need to make my final purchase decision in the next few weeks, and this trip helped.

I had no other specific booths I wanted to visit, so I just wandered. Of course, I wandered in balance mode in my iBOT, and I attracted a lot of attention. More than once, I had to excuse myself or I could’ve stood there for hours and answered questions. But you know me; I am an iBOT exhibitionist, and I love the attention.

My friend and the best occupational therapist in the world, Maren, who now works for Invacare, led me to a booth with a remarkable product. As I’ve written here before, I’m losing my ability to feed myself. My arms and hands can’t get food from plate to mouth. Here, I met obi, a robotic eating assistant. I tried him (her?) out and gave the developers an honest critique of where their product came up short.

“Oh, we thought of that. See…”

I stood corrected. Of course, obi costs $4500. Maybe I can convince insurance to pay for it or come up with some other manner to acquire one for less than $4500. You can be assured I’ll let you know if that happens.

I’d never been in a place with so many wheelchairs before. There were traffic jams in the aisles. Two individuals would be parked and speaking with one another, and that’s all it took to cause a backup. But everyone was polite. I didn’t see any road rage or even eye rolls for that matter. Maybe it’s because patience is a necessary virtue, or at least a learned skill, for all disabled people. We are well practiced.

A strange thing happened at one of the booths I dropped in on. In front of a small group of wheelchair users, an impressive, disabled gentleman was endorsing a product that had changed his life dramatically for the better. When he spoke about how the device had improved his ability to interact with his children, he choked up so much that he could barely continue. A normal listener, a normal human being for that matter, would have been touched by this show of vulnerability. But I’m not a normal human being. I wondered if his emotion was genuine or contrived.

I doubted that it was genuine because he was obviously a polished speaker and must have given the same talk many times before. It seemed likely that he would have hammered out those feelings from sheer practice. On the other hand, I doubted that his choking-up was contrived, because only a manipulative person could pull that off, and I had no evidence that he was anything of the sort. I mean, he was disabled after all.

This leads to another question. What kind of asshole doubts the sincerity of a father talking about how much he loves his children?

Which leads to my final question. How would you like to live with a brain like mine? Before you answer that, I must say, of all the brains I’ve lived with, this one has been my favorite.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My Book Update

In a previous blog post regarding my memoir, dated March 13, 2016, I declared “it’s done!”


It wasn’t done. I sent out query letters (letters of introduction about me and my book) to a group of literary agents in March and April, and I got no bites. Maybe my query letters weren’t enticing enough. Perhaps my sample chapters weren’t compelling enough. It's quite possible I didn't query the right agents. Who knows? Since April, I’ve worked extensively on both my query letter template and the manuscript itself. That brings me to today.

Now that summer is over and Kim is back to work, I have no excuses. It’s time for me to really finish the book and get out query letters to the next round of literary agents. Then I’ll wait six to eight weeks to see if I get any responses. While I wait, I plan to be productive. On the assumption that I won’t land an agent, which is a statistical likelihood given the ratio of aspiring authors to literary agents, I will pull together a strategy for self-publishing. That way, once I have exhausted the traditional publishing route, I won’t have to wait long before getting the book out on my own.

And if, surprise of surprises, I get any interest from literary agents, then so much the better.

I’ve had many people help me on the book—friends, relatives, writing group members, beta readers, a freelance editor from New York. Everybody told me that it’s well done, but I remained skeptical. Most of these folks had a stake in making me feel good about myself. Recently I submitted an essay to a mid-sized monthly magazine (circulation approximately 100,000 per issue), and they accepted it. Not only will I be published in their November edition, but they paid me (heck, I would've paid them)

Given that the essay is an excerpt from my book, this experience has provided me with a boost in confidence.

The name of the magazine? I’ll let you know in a future blog post, closer to the date of publication, which is late October.

Now, time for me to get back to those query letters…

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Our trip on The Cat Ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

People are stubborn. People keep trying to establish a daily ferry service between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. People keep failing.

I admit, Kim and I have often said, "that looks like fun," as we watched the impressive ferries come and go out of Portland all summer. But whenever we checked the prices we were reminded why these ventures fail. People can go on Caribbean cruises for only a little more money.

Kim Has a Very Particular Set of Skills

I may have mentioned in the past that Kim wins prizes on the radio. It’s kind of embarrassing—smacks of desperation I think. On the other hand, I’m never so humiliated that I refuse to accompany her to these concerts and other events. A few weeks ago she won a round trip for two people and one car on this year’s incarnation of the Portland-Yarmouth ferry. So, off to Canada we went.

This is such a bad business idea, I thought as we boarded The Cat, a high-speed catamaran-style ferry. I bet we’ll be the only ones on the boat. But that wasn’t the case. There were plenty of others, and they didn’t appear to be the wealthy sort either. A holiday weekend bump? I hope not.

Rock the Boat (Don’t Rock the Boat Baby)

Kim is susceptible to seasickness. On our ride from Portland to Yarmouth, the ocean rolled with large, gentle swells, up up up, down down down, up up up, down down down. She didn’t like it, not one bit.

The customer service on this ship was outstanding—I think the crew were mostly Canadians. They offered Kim free crackers and ginger ale to settle her stomach. They suggested we position ourselves at the rear the boat where the ocean swells had less effect. Kim also popped some pills and threw on a patch, and by the end of the 5½ hour trip, she had recovered.

When we docked in Yarmouth, the sun had set, and the fog had rolled in. We drove directly to the hotel, checked in, unpacked, and headed downstairs to inspect the lounge. There were 15 or 20 people spread throughout. Not bad for a hotel bar. A hostessy woman invited us to, “Sit anywhere you like.”

Unfortunately, most of the seats, and all the good ones, were down a short flight of steps. “Is there a ramp somewhere so we can get to the bar area?” Kim asked.

No. There wasn’t. Rather than sit at the periphery of the establishment, or transfer me into my iBOT wheelchair so I could climb the stairs, we went back up to the room and got a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we perused some travel information for Yarmouth, and we came away unsure what exactly we would do on this Friday of Labor Day weekend (yes, it was Labor Day weekend in Canada too). The brochures offered a smattering of obscure museums, a lighthouse, and some mansions with supposedly noteworthy architecture. “We’ll find something to do,” I assured Kim.

I saddled up the iBOT for the day and rode her around town. I blew the minds of some residents as I cruised the sidewalks in balance mode. Brain matter spewed everywhere. What a mess.

We had slept so late on Friday that breakfast didn’t happen. One of the employees on the ferry had advised us on the best lunch spot in Yarmouth. We were not disappointed when we dined at The Shanty CafĂ©. Turns out that “Canadian Potato Skins” (their name, not mine) are delicious, and not meal-sized like the potato skin appetizers in the states.

“Okay, now what?” Kim asked as we rolled out of The Shanty.

“I don’t know. Downtown looks sleepy. Maybe we have to get in the car and drive around to see what the town has to offer.”

We did. We found the strip with car dealerships, fast food restaurants, and Walmart. Kim tried a couple of thrift shops—nothing.

“Maybe we need to drive along the ocean. Let’s find that lighthouse.” I offered.

To The Ocean!

We followed a winding road out to the end of a peninsula and found Cape Forchu Lightstation, a spectacular park with an unusual lighthouse. The problem was, the wind blew about 1000 miles an hour, so we walked around for five minutes and got back in the car. On the way out we had to come to a full stop to let two deer cross the road. I like that.

Our ferry guy had suggested Rudder's Seafood Restaurant and Brew Pub for dinner, a nice restaurant and the only brewery in town. With nothing better to do, we set out early for dinner.

I studied these Canadians at the restaurant. They looked like us.  They even spoke like us, except words such as “sorry.” (Surprisingly, in this corner of Canada there were no dangling “eh’s.”) But they inhabited a parallel universe where Donald Trump is not running to be president of their country and where the term medical insurance has no context.

We enjoyed dinner and lingered to take in some live music for another hour, before heading to the hotel.

Back to the USA 

Kim and I were hopeful that the return trip would be more pleasant for her. Indeed, there were no swells or waves for the entire ride back to Portland on Saturday. But there was something even more disturbing. In the seats across from us, a young couple, generally attractive and appearing otherwise normal, were making their best effort to meld into a single human being. They sat intertwined for the entire voyage. She held a novel in her hands, and I swear they were reading it together. That's right. Together.

Final Impressions

Although I encountered some accessibility challenges, the ferry and the city of Yarmouth were accessible enough, average or better than average. Email me if you would like more specifics.

Like the failed ventures before, I worry about the viability of this ferry service. Unlike the young couple who sat across from us, Portland and Yarmouth are not trying to become one. They couldn’t be more different. Portland is upscale, bustling, award-winning. Yarmouth is quaint, a little boring, but trying their best to improve. To Portland, the ferry service is a nice little addition to a thriving waterfront. To Yarmouth, the ferry service is the centerpiece of an effort to make their city a destination for Americans and a gateway for Canadians traveling to America.

I probably didn’t give Yarmouth a fair chance. I’m sure, with better preparation, we could have enjoyed our time more. I’m rooting for Yarmouth, but making the ferry service a success and building their little town into a vacation destination are tough challenges, especially with brain goo splattered all over their sidewalks.

Photo credits:

The Cat – Portland Press Herald
Cape Forchu Lightstation –