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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

Three participants died in the swim leg of two different triathlons within seven days in Wisconsin this June. It’s an ominous start to the 2019 Midwest triathlon race season, raising questions about athlete safety, fitness and medical screening prior to participation in long distance triathlons such as Ironman and even shorter distance beginner events, where one of this month’s swim fatalities occurred.

Todd Mahoney, 38, and Michael McCulloch, 61, died during the 1.2-mile open water swim of the Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin, Madison triathlon on Sunday, June 9. The race is commonly referred to as a “half-Ironman” for its total distance of 70.3 miles. The event is half the total distance of a “full-Ironman” or 140.6-mile combined swim/bike/run distance event. The week before on Sunday, June 2, 59-year old Scott Beatse died in the Lake Mills Triathlon, also in Wisconsin. The Lake Mills Triathlon was a short-distance triathlon with a 400-meter (1/4 mile) swim, 16-mile bike and 3.1 mile run. The specific cause of death for each participant has not been released.

A September, 2017 report on triathlon swim deaths published in Reuters Health News by journalist Lisa Rapaport revealed that, “A study of more than 9 million participants over three decades found that deaths and cardiac arrests struck 1.74 out of every 100,000 competitors.”

While Rapaport’s story makes the chances of dying in a triathlon swim seem low, the 30-year duration of the study and the method of data collection may miss some key changes in current triathlon demographics. During the last decade, triathlon events have “filled from the bottom” with most participants coming from the beginner demographic. Beginner participants may- or may not– have adequate fitness or pre-existing medical conditions that go undetected until they experience the physical and mental stress of triathlon participation.

The question of whether athletes should be required to have mandatory pre-race medical screenings has been an unpopular one in U.S. triathlon events. In general, race organizers and participants are opposed to the idea of mandatory medical screenings prior to participation. But in endurance events outside the U.S. like the 156-mile Marathon des Sables, an ultra-distance running stage race in the Sahara Desert, all citizen-participants are required to have a cardiac EKG and basic medical health check certified by a medical doctor in their home country prior to entry. In the professional Tour de France bicycle race, cyclists receive a comprehensive medical exam prior to participation not only to screen for performance enhancing drugs, but also to detect any pre-existing conditions that may pose a health risk during the race. In the long distance Raid Gauloises adventure race, pre-race medical checks were also required.

There are reasons to question the effectiveness of pre-event medical screening in reducing fatalities among recreational participants. Basic pre-race medical exams such as an electro-cardiogram, blood pressure measurement and medical history may not reveal common athlete killers such as a “Patent Foramen Ovale” or PFO. The PFO, a cardiac defect, is present in “about 25 percent in the general population” according to the American Heart Association. A PFO can result in a cryptogenic stroke, which can be fatal, especially if suffered during an open water swim where even a mild PFO-induced stroke can lead to disorientation that may contribute to drowning.

PFOs are difficult to detect in a routine medical examination. They commonly require a color flow Doppler echocardiogram or transthoracic echocardiographic (TTE) imaging test to detect. These tests are not routine in general medical examinations and usually only administered after a patient has suffered a stroke as a diagnostic tool to discover the cause of the stroke. PFOs can be treated with a small cardiac implant to prevent their return.

Other factors that could contribute to athlete mortality and medical risk include participating in triathlons while being overweight. As special categories for participants categorized by weight have been introduced in triathlons, called “Clydesdale” and “Athena” categories, there may be more overweight participants in triathlons. While there appear to be no published metrics on risk factors for overweight participants compared to non-overweight participants in triathlons, overwhelming exercise research verifies that being overweight is a general health risk. It’s unlikely, however, that any endurance event would begin excluding participants based on health-based risk factors such as weight or family medical history.

Similar, documented risk factors exist for older athletes. As the general demographic of triathlon participations is likely growing older, common age-related health risks are increasing in the general triathlon population. Although participating in triathlons at older ages presents additional risk commonly associated with general aging, older participants are often celebrated as exceptional in triathlon. In fact, regular, moderate aerobic exercise- although usually less strenuous than triathlon distances and not in a competitive setting- have been commonly cited as beneficial to reducing age-induced health risks, especially obesity, in many credible medical findings. While risks for aging endurance athletes remain and even increase, the benefits may be worth it when spread across the broader population if participation is approached with moderation and medical monitoring.

Ultimately it is difficult to make a case for any one set of common medical diagnosis to predict athlete risk factors in triathlons except for obesity and aging. It is common knowledge that overweight athletes are at greater risk than non-overweight athletes. Those risk factors themselves are part of the reasons overweight people begin to exercise- to moderate the health risks of obesity by losing weight through exercise and diet. It’s also common knowledge that older people have more health risks than younger people. It doesn’t require a medical screening to reveal any of those realities.

Perhaps the greater question is why participants who know they have risk factors would participate in triathlons when a more moderate approach to managing risk factors such as weight loss may be safer? This is especially true for long-distance triathlons. Using less strenuous exercise as managed by a health care provider over time to moderate risk factors such as obesity before participating in triathlons makes sense. This approach addresses the risks faced by participants with conspicuous pre-existing exercise risks like age and being overweight. It does nothing to predict the mortality of participants with difficult to detect medical problems like PFOs. Unfortunately, as the triathlon community has learned so far in 2019, these may be undetectable killers.


 

Author Tom Demerly has competed in well over a hundred triathlons including the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii and five other Ironman triathlons around the world. He is a four-time state cycling champion and has participated in endurance events on all seven continents including the Marathon des Sables, the Eco-Challenge and the Raid Gauloises. He has also climbed the highest mountains on three continents and the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. Demerly is a stroke survivor who suffered a stroke while running in October, 2006 from a Patent Foramen Ovale. He had heart surgery to correct a cardiac birth defect that caused the stroke. He was also a member of an elite Army National Guard Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU), Co. “F”, 425th INF. (AIRBORNE), Michigan National Guard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

 

We spend almost no time doing nothing. Our lives are perpetually filled to the breaking point with people, priorities and projects. Because of globe-shrinking, distance erasing connectivity, instant communication and universal integration, the barriers that used to exist between leisure and work are gone.  We are constantly engaged in some way. A state of circular and perpetual multi-tasking and never-ending partial distraction.

It’s difficult to say for certain if these societal and cultural changes have made us more productive. They may have. But from an innate need for emotional and mental survival there has certainly been an odd “creep” of snack-sized idleness into our longer and longer work days. We may say we “worked 12 hours”, but what we really did was spend 12 hours in our work place, with probably 70-90% of it productive (if we’re exceptionally good) and the remainder doing some compromised loafing for the purpose of trying to build some mental space between solace and servitude.

We don’t have to read far into philosophy to see a historical reverence for doing nothing, and the remarkable possibilities it presents. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, author of the Tao de Ching, permeated his text with the infinite value of empty space. Lao Tzu observes that it is not the walls of a bowl that make it useful, but the empty space inside. He talks about the hollow space at the center of a wheel, around which all things rotate. Lao Tzu also explores the abundance that flows through an empty mind, and that when the mind is truly open, the entire universe is free to flow through it. That idea is both intoxicating, and terrifying. It offers boundless possibility, but at the cost of our deepest held beliefs. And therein lies our terror at being idle; we actually have to deal with ourselves in honesty.

Part of the reason we try to avoid the vastness of doing nothing is because, in this space we are forced to examine ourselves. In a world of decreasing depth and increasing materialism rife with conspicuous experience, this deeply intrinsic self-inventory can be frightening. What the hell are we actually doing? Why? What is it for and what is the end game? That is heavy stuff, best put off until our final days when we may be forced to confront it in discomfort, fear and declining health.

If you’ve ever seen the process of an old person dying of natural causes in America, it is a deeply, but secretly, ritualized event. The person gets bad news and performs some mental processing. They realize they are on a short, one-way timeline to the end of their lives. They conduct a hasty inventory of their life, attempting to extract some meaning from it that transcends the duration of time they were actually here. About the time they fail to achieve that meaning- when they reach the horrible realization that most of their pursuits have been hollow time-wasters calibrated to benefit a common economy, it becomes too painful to bear and the drugs come out. We quietly put that person out of their misery, and ours. We remove them from the terrifying example that will also be our experience when our time comes. But don’t worry, there are plenty of drugs to go around, and they are administered freely at our moment of final reckoning, so we don’t have deal with the fact that we wasted a huge portion of our lives in the pursuit of things and hollow status.

While this is a dreadfully dreary narrative, its reciprocal offers boundless hope. Our world is equally as vast as it has ever been, and now we experience it in greater depth and at faster speed than any time in human history. We are trying to drink life from a fire hose at full flow. While the high-pressure cascade of water can rip our lips off, if we just build some distance from it, the spray alone will keep our minds and spirits hydrated with an abundance previously unimagined. In these occasional and precious empty spaces of doing nothing, all things flow inward. Ideas, inspirations, peace, priorities, even pain- to be processed and purged in the healing process that is our perpetual psyche- flows through our mind. We get a chance to finally inhale fully and deeply, and deliver the big exhale. Therein lies the precious value of doing absolutely nothing.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Russ Gibb with Dearborn retail maven and girlfriend Alberta Muirhead in 2005

You are fortunate in your life if you’ve had one truly great teacher. I had Russ Gibb.

Equal parts Jedi Master and Morpheus-like oracle, Mr. Gibb (“Sir” to you and I) imparted sagacious wisdom, innovative premonition and traditional norms of respect. And he actually changed the media world. Russ Gibb was one of the most influential men of our century whom you’ve never heard of outside Dearborn. But Russ Gibb’s legacy has touched nearly every person on this planet.

He died last week in Dearborn at the age of 87.

Russ Gibb didn’t fit inside any established box, so he built his own. In this case, one that sits under your television and has cables running in and out of it. Gibb did not invent cable subscription television, just as Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the Wright Brothers invent the airplane. But just as the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford did, Russ Gibb took a fledgling, under-integrated new technology and launched it on a trajectory that led to internet television and is still growing. Gibb was an early adopter of new media through cable subscription television. His pioneering program in Dearborn, Michigan included locally produced television programming on topics specific to the neighborhood. Our high school, Dearborn High School on Outer Drive, was likely one of the very first high schools- if not the first- in the world to have its own television studio. Mister Gibb either found the funding for our TV studio (much of it in grants from Sony Corporation and early cable providers) or simply paid for it himself.

If Russ Gibb’s work integrating municipalities and schools with cable television was his entire legacy, that would be impressive. But it is his mystic synergy of combining this new media- even before the Internet- with unprecedented access and an innate sense for publicity that provided Gibb with another miraculous talent: Hype.

Russ Gibb was a promoter. He was always promoting. Every lesson he taught, every idea he imparted, was the promotion of some idea; real or imagined, innovative or traditional. That he walked so readily between the conflicting worlds of emerging pop media and traditional institutional respect was entirely unique to Russ Gibb. Russ Gibb didn’t have to ask his students for respect. His devotion to education, wisdom, quirky charisma and clairvoyance of the future simply commanded respect.

Gibb was an entertainment alchemist. He conjured the chemistry of publicity that included elbow-grease promotion with implied spectacle. Where fact ended, Russ Gibb’s hype continued. Gibb is largely credited with one of the first and most prolific hype campaigns in media history, the “Paul McCartney is Dead” rumor. Gibb foisted the rumor from a caller to the radio station WKNR (“Keener 13!”) where he DJ’ed on October 12, 1969 according to a story by journalist Gary Graff for Billboard magazine. Gibb spun the idea into a worldwide conspiracy sensation that vaulted The Beatles to their highest ever trajectory on pop charts. According to Graff’s report for Billboard, “The whole thing just exploded”. Gibb told Billboard, “The phones were ringing off the hook. People were calling with their own clues. It was non-stop.” Gibb laughed as he remembered the station’s owner telling him, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” He even called Eric Clapton, his musician friend in England, to ask if he knew anything about the rumor. Gibb told reporter Graff that Clapton said, “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Paul for awhile…” Clapton went on to say, “It was really a phenomenon. For a while, it seemed like it might really be true.”

Russ Gibb DJ’ing in his early years.

When he wasn’t promoting tours, album releases and appearances by musical acts like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Wayne Kramer and the MC5, Cream, The Who, Janis Joplin and many others, Russ Gibb was working on his own media venue, The Grande Ballroom. This iconic shrine of music was a flash-pot of live media evolution that predated the punk rock and new wave movement and helped bend the trajectory of modern pop music and media promotion.

Gibb did all this while, in his 8-4 work day, he transformed high school students into television executives, managers in the Big 3 automotive companies, media pioneers and child prodigies.

Classmates of mine at Dearborn High under Russ Gibb included automotive exec, connectivity innovator and owner of numerous patents Larry Cepuran. Ed Korcinski was a prodigy student of Gibb who graduated from Dearborn High early, then MIT with a degree in materials engineering and went on to become a Silicon Valley microchip innovator. Paul Streffen graduated from Mr. Gibb’s curriculum at Dearborn High and went to Sony Corporation where he worked his way up as a pioneer of new media under Gibb’s sponsorship. I learned how to write a headline, organize a news story, and, more importantly than anything else, learn that I had a voice I could develop and share around the world from Mr. Gibb.

Russ Gibb left this world with an eternal and vibrant gift, the gift of promotion and sensation, connectivity and empowerment before those things were buzzwords. While he quietly built and boosted a media revolution, loudly pitched the talents of others, and steadily worked to bolster his incredibly fortunate students to believe they could achieve greatness he remained almost entirely on the sideline, out of the spotlight, instead preferring to focus that blinding and emerging beam of sensation on others. Perhaps more than any one great innovation or media promotion, it is this humble generosity that is his greatest and most enduring legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

You’ll never understand my politics from social media.

Social media has a pigeon-holing effect that dangerously summarizes and condescendingly panders to our perceived beliefs based on what we post and who we friend. We get served what we believe and believe what we’re served in a circular conversation that reinforces our perceived beliefs and prejudices. That’s dangerous.

I notice an interesting phenomenon; social media’s algorithms can’t decode my own political orientations. They don’t fit any current analytical algorithm. The scary thing is, my political beliefs aren’t that complex.

Because Facebook’s automated analytics cannot decide if I am a republican or democrat, a Trump supporter or Trump critic, wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated, support gender rights or not- it goes wild. I’m served the most disjointed cocktail of content that ranges from politics across the entire left-right spectrum to pages showing animal rights and hunting groups. Facebook just doesn’t get me. It alternately believes I am gay, straight, old, young, racist, liberal, married and single, a tree hugger and a big game hunter.

This is important to consider because Facebook’s penchant for pigeon-holing our personal politics continues to draw a wedge between us during a time when global culture needs just the opposite. What Zuckerberg created was meant to unite us, but has in fact counted us off in convenient groups that force us to pick a team with seemingly like-minded people. It reinforces our beliefs, fails to challenge us, convinces us we are part of a majority and panders to group-think. As Zuckerberg once said, “The users are the product”, and Facebook is trying desperately to package the product in convenient, easy-open shrink-wrapped groups to sell things to.

In this rush to package its users Facebook does not foster individual thought. It’s too hard to market to.

The ancillary effect is that my republican conservative friends believe I am a defacto liberal, and my liberal friends believe I am an ultra-right leaning conservative. I’ve met people in person I’ve gotten to know on Facebook who told me things like, “Well, because you are a Trump supporter…” and also tell me, “Because you’re a liberal…”.

It’s actually not all that complicated. It’s that Facebook’s algorithms are actually pretty lazy.

The truth is, I decide issues on an ala carte basis congruent with my personal values. Facebook doesn’t have an algorithm for personal values, only for groupthink. Therein lies its most dangerous feature- it (tries to) pigeon hole us and fails to challenge us. It is the salesman in the room who agrees with everything everyone says, and practices the “knock ‘em where they lean” doctrine of attraction. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you why it’s the best.”

Our society has suffered from dumbing-down, speeding up and tuning out of any conversation or idea more than three sentences. If it can’t be expressed and evaluated in a Tweet, a post or a picture, then people don’t have time for it.

“Resisting the online inertia that pulls us into groupthink is cornerstone to responsible use of social media.”

Resisting the online inertia that pulls us into groupthink is cornerstone to responsible use of social media, and it isn’t always easy- especially when friends are involved. Mark Zuckerberg created what may be the greatest invention in human history since the Gutenberg Press, and exactly the like the first printing press used to stamp out bibles to adjudicate our belief sets, it’s up to us to decide how to best use it rather than being lulled into its ever-increasing suction of group-think.


Tom Demerly is a feature writer and analyst from Dearborn, Michigan. 

Photo: Scott Kroske.

Danny Klein’s smile was bigger than his face. His genuine, wide-mouthed grin didn’t seem to fit on his head. That smile said everything about Klein’s life.

Dan Klein died on Wednesday, killed in a traffic accident crossing the street. His death is the thesis of every life truism shared in quotes on social media; live every day like it was your last, dance like no one is watching, ride your bike because you never know when you may lose the chance to.

Klein did all that. He lived. In many ways, Dan Klein lived as though he had a premonition that he would leave this earth far too soon. So, he went on every bike ride he could, rode hard, took photos with his many friends, smiled that oversized smile.

I hadn’t seen Dan in years until one day I rolled up on him in my car on Hines Drive. Klein was sitting in the textbook perfect position on his bike. He was on the Dearborn Wednesday night ride along Hines Drive. Klein was there, in the drops, out of the wind, near the front in the tactically perfect place in the group. Living life, calling the shots on the ride. No one would get away without him. Before the ride was over he would spend all the energy he had that day going hard to defend his position at the front. When he got back to the parking lot Klein would have judiciously spent all his strength on the bike for that day. Then he would repeat that doctrine on his next ride.

On the bike and in life, Dan Klein did not seem to age. He simply followed his passions, his inner voice. He oriented his internal compass to the things that spoke to him and worried little about things off his path. Dan Klein was true to himself. When you got to know him, you recognized that was cornerstone to how genuine a person he was and how intoxicating he was to be around.

It was as though Dan Klein somehow knew he would not live to grow old. And in that, every decision he made to take time away from work, sometimes extended sabbaticals from the normal middle-class wage earning regimen, was a good one. Especially in retrospect.

I longed to see Dan Klein again in person. He was gregarious, genuine and affectionate. He had an oddly contradictory dignity and poise for a man who lived a life of passions on and off the bike. He sampled many relationships, and the whispers from his ex’s, his many ex’s, sometimes started in their first sentences a little stung with pain but quickly swung over to a wry smirk and an endearing tone for his authenticity and kindness. It was a good thing Klein had a lot of girlfriends. He literally spread the love around. They were lucky.

Let’s grab onto Danny Klein’s life and put some of it into each of our own. We will not be here forever. We should leave work and go on that ride. And we should love and smile without reservation and with wide-mouthed sincerity- exactly like Dan Klein did. If we do that, we will each be happier, even though right now trying to be happy with only the memory of Dan Klein is a very difficult thing to do.

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

As a commentator, he was a master. Measured. Well-paced. Gifted with dramatic inflection and a lilting accent that brought credibility to his narration. As a dramatist, he was a rare thespian of the microphone. He paced his voice, volume and inflection to build a crescendo that hammered on the edge of control. And perhaps most importantly, as a person, he humanized and dignified a sport that is rife with indignity and subterfuge.

Paul Sherwen died last week at the age of 62. Far too soon. His untimely passing is gutting to the world of cycling, not just for fans who loved him, but for the complex synergy of broadcasting the Tour de France and all of professional cycling in the English language.

You can read of Sherwen’s impressive professional cycling career in any of the many eulogies published around the world for him over the last 72 hours. But Sherwen rose to greatest prominence as a broadcaster, commentator and even moderator of cycling’s most turbulent era.

Sherwen began broadcasting with Phil Liggett in 1989. That is when he went from great cyclist to mega-star. The combination of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen was not just good, it was magical synergy. The sum was greater than the total of its parts. By themselves, Sherwen and Liggett were excellent commentators. Together they became the institution of cycling in the English language.

It would not be an embellishment to suggest the team of Sherwen and Liggett saved cycling.

The damage inflicted by the Armstrong era cast a dark cloud over professional bike racing and the Tour de France. Its creditability as a legitimate sport was shattered in the post-Armstrong era and didn’t recover even after the brash Texan doper and extortionist was forced into exile. The doping scandals and accusations continued. For any informed observer, cycling had a titanic image problem. It was dirty.

Enter Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett. Commentating next to the thousand-pound doping elephant in the room the duo would chat during slow stages as the group rode together at a pedestrian pace. Cycling coverage had changed from a 45-minute recorded and scripted highlight reel to a rolling commentary of the entire stage. It became an endurance event for live announcers. Try describing anything non-stop for six hours. If your voice holds, you quickly find out you run out of things to say. Not Sherwen.

During the Tour de France, Sherwen and Liggett were served snippets about the areas the riders were passing through from race organizers. They were dry historical facts about castles, bridges, rivers and factories. It was the stuff you slept through in school. But Sherwen would grab this stuff off the feed and, as though you were sitting next to him in a touring sedan on a leisurely drive across rural France, weave a lilting tale from the popcorn-dry feed. When Sherwen talked about the milk production of the cows of Provence region, it sounded quaint and charming and… damn near interesting.

When the action started, Sherwen’s voice moved to his gut. He became more baritone. More Serious. More urgent. His pace picked up just a tick. Tension boiled under his narration. It felt as if the other shoe would drop at any moment, and we all slid to the edge of seats. His colloquialisms were Shakespearean. Who had ever heard what it was like to, “Throw a cat among the pigeons” or, “Reach deep into the suitcase of courage” before Paul Sherwen? Sherwin brought rare dramatic eloquence to a sport of blue collar schoolboys.

Paul Sherwen dignified cycling, amplified the drama, downplayed the scandal.

It is difficult to imagine a post-Sherwen cycling era. At 75 years old, Phil Liggett may decide to pack up his microphone and move on to a well-earned retirement. Something Paul Sherwen never got. Sherwen played the key role to Liggett’s performance, shoring him up when he made the errors in remembering a cyclist’s name that any 75-year old would make. They did so seamlessly, and it only added to the show. But without Sherwen as his muse and protector, Liggett may not want to continue. If that is the case, it is not too much of a stretch to say that when we lost Paul Sherwen, we lost all of cycling. Or at least any semblance of dignity, drama and decency it had left.


 

Tom Demerly has been a cycling commentator and journalist for over 30 years. He has written for Outside, Velo-News, Inside Triathlon, Triathlon Today, Triathlete, Bicycling, Bicycle Guide, USA Cycling, USA Triathlon and many others.

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

I was once so poor, I didn’t have a coffee cup.

It didn’t matter much since I had neither coffee or a coffee maker. I had boxes of things I owned when I was rich, before I lost everything. But I wasn’t going to stay in one place long enough to unpack them, so what was left stayed in the boxes. I never unpacked. Nothing was permanent.

No coffee cup though.

My parents told stories of the depression when they were kids. The stories didn’t seem possible to me. When I didn’t have a coffee cup it occurred to me, “Well damn. Here is our depression. Exactly like my mom described.” Now you’re reading my story of not having a coffee cup.

Eventually things began to improve. I was good at what I did, a writer. Got a good job writing at a company in California. Money came in. California is expensive so you need to earn a lot of money to be even reasonably comfortable. You still won’t have any money left over, so you better keep your job or find a new one outside California. If you want to make any money, don’t move to California.

Moved from California to Michigan. Brought my two cats in a cat carrier on the plane. I had written a letter to the airline well in advance telling them my cats were the most valuable thing in the world to me. They met me at the airport and took extra care of me and my two cats on the flight from California back to Michigan. I was thankful for that. Nothing was more important. I figured if I couldn’t even care for two cats, I was pretty worthless. But in this case, with the help of the airlines, I managed fairly well. Thank God, and I’m not even religious. The airline was Southwest airlines. If you can, when you fly, fly on Southwest Airlines. They actually care about people. And cats. That’s rare these days.

Still no coffee cup though.

When I got back to Michigan I took back an old job that I liked but didn’t earn much money. I was going to help open a new business soon. There was, at least, the promise of improvement if not tangible improvement itself. Sometimes you can do pretty good on just the promise of things getting better. It’s better than knowing things are going to get worse. I’ve gotten good at sensing when that is going to happen. It’s a bad feeling and you better trust it.

My friends Paul and Sue, whom I’ve known forever, visited me right away when I moved back. They knew me before the recession, before I lost everything. I was actually well-off then. Owned a house, car, business. Those things can disappear in an instant, so fast you can’t believe it. You think you are secure. Trust me, you aren’t. A million dollars means nothing.

I know that when Paul and Sue and their sons saw how things were for me then they were… well, I don’t know what they were. They never said. Sue drove me to the store. When it became apparent I had no money for food, her and her two sons brought food to my house. I always made sure my cats had food. They came first.

Things kept getting better. Made a little money. Lived in a house with a big yard, grass (we didn’t have that in California) and plenty of windows. The first warm day I went outside and just laid down in the grass. It was the first time I felt safe in a long time. My cats watched me through the window. That was a good feeling. I still remember that moment, lying there in the grass.

Eventually things got much better. That’s America. You can have everything, lose everything, and get everything back again.

On one trip to the store I bought a coffee maker, $22, a huge can of coffee (don’t remember how much) and a coffee cup. It’s still my favorite cup. I worry about breaking it. It would be a bad omen.

So with this new coffee cup, I am pretty careful.