The Superbus's Thoughtpad

Pain

Posted by Chris Bowen on December 7, 2014

When someone asks me what a concussion’s after effects feel like, I ask them if they’ve ever seen a cartoon character get stuck inside a bell that another character hits with a hammer. If yes, that’s life with concussion symptoms.

Take that, mix in uncertainty and depression, and welcome to the last months of my life. It’s OK, though. I’ve been down this road so many times that I know all the curves.


I wish I’d have just gotten hit in the face.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had two shots to the head that could be considered concussions. The first wasn’t even that hard; a mid-tier U14 player – at a level where most of the players will be lucky to get a regular shift in a decent high school league before they go play men’s league – a kid carried his stick high and clunked me in the head. It shouldn’t have hurt me because I didn’t get hit that hard – though my friend figures that might just come from my adrenaline kicking in, “crazy motherfucker that (I) am”1 – but it did, and I spent most of the following week groggy and dizzy, the telltale signs of a concussion. I ended up dropping all of my games that weekend, which I despise doing, pissing off one of my assignors in the process.

The next weekend, I had a 1PM game at one rink close to my home, then a 9PM in New Jersey, over two hours from that first game. The first game was smooth and easy, and yet I still didn’t feel right afterwards; my head hurt, I was having trouble focusing, and I wasn’t confident. I still made the two hour plus drive to New Jersey to work a college game with my assignor. During the game, on a face-off, one player – a shit head on a team loaded with shit heads – got spun around, and swung his stick, hitting me in the visor hard. “Why did he do this”, I’ve been asked since, and the best answer I can give is “why not?”. This isn’t the type of player who respects anyone enough to not swing his stick violently in an attempt to keep his balance, so if someone mentioned that he hit me in the face, he’d probably say I got hit because I was fat or something equally noxious.

It should be noted that just about everywhere now, referees and linesmen are required to wear visors. USA Hockey made the practice mandatory last season, and before that, I worked for college assignors who mandated it, mainly out of a desire to not be sued, but the first one to force it that I know of, Paul Stewart, has a supervisor on his staff, Pat Dapuzzo, who was cut by a skate blade, which ended his career. Dapuzzo swears he’d have been alright had he been wearing a visor.

I, on the other hand, swear I would have been better had I not. The stick went into my visor, and rocked my head hard. Unfortunately, that meant that the vibration of the helmet hurt me even worse; my ears rang for the rest of the game, and for days afterwards. Had I not been wearing the visor, I probably would have – at a minimum – had my nose broken, but I wouldn’t have had the rocking or shaking that the visor caused. Picture boxing with gloves; there’s a mistaken belief that the gloves protect the fighter from the blunt trauma of a fist, but in reality, that large pillow makes brain injuries worse, with the side effect being that the glove’s protection of the hand – which would likely be broken in an old bare-knuckle scrap as a wayward punch would hit bone instead of a nose – makes punching to the head more palatable. When people argue that the advancements in equipment actually hurt players because it makes them feel invincible, it’s the reality of my getting hit that they fear.

I finished the game, which ended in a tie with overtime. Of course I did. After that, I pulled my assignor aside and told him I was turning everything back. I was done for the year. I knew what was coming.


It’s strange that I can remember the last game I worked – before and after getting hit in the face with a wild stick – but don’t remember much after that. I don’t remember much about the drive home from New Jersey to my office in Norwalk, which I had decided to sleep in before the game because I figured it would be easier to just get into the office and relax before work the next day at 8 than to go home, go to sleep for three hours, and then get up at 6 to fight traffic. I don’t remember much about that work day except the fact that I was really, really hyper. Beyond that, everything from that week is a blur. I know I went home Wednesday because – as I would find out later – I was wholly useless, and actively snapping at coworkers. Overall, I missed three and a half work days due to my concussion, and beyond this week, I don’t remember much of any of it.

There are other things, some overt and some blindingly obvious. My short term memory is completely shot. I can’t remember conversations I had a few hours ago in some cases, and other times, the day prior or the day prior to that. I remember getting actually hit in the head with a hockey stick, but I couldn’t tell my boss what I was asked to do earlier in the day. Also, my night vision has been bad, once getting to the point where I drove over a curb. There are other issues – I get odd sensations of vertigo that come and go – but those are the big ones.

Of course, those are also just the physical issues. Vertigo and other ways of adjusting are not altogether difficult so long as one isn’t incapacitated. The mental issues are even worse. Being unable to do what I want to do is depressing enough, but then one adds in having depression as it is, and the cocktail becomes a real issue. I’ve been going through a roller coaster of emotions, most of which are that I’m broken, and useless, and not tough enough, which extrapolates to being a bad human being. It’s taken a lot of support from the people close to me to get through this one, and I hate leaning on support.


Since I ran my car off the road, I’ve been to the Veterans’ Affairs hospital and am being seen by the Traumatic Brain Injury guys. This is actually the worst part of everything: the waiting period to determine how jacked up I really am. Years of baseball, hockey, boxing, rugby, falling off of aircraft carriers – oh yeah, I fell 30ft. off of a fucking aircraft carrier and landed on another boat2 – and just living a dangerous lifestyle have finally caught up with me. I’m thirty-four years old and have had more than ten concussions at a bare minimum. If every concussion makes subsequent ones that much easier, at this point, I’m going to get knocked silly by a firm kiss.

I’m now forced to go through a battery of tests, pictures and who knows what just to see where I’m at. That wait is going to be awful. College is a wash, but will I be ready to go in time for the playoffs? Will I be ready to go for next season? Am I done, unless I decide to risk my future well being? Who knows! If I could have an answer on this, I’d be able to begin the process of moving on without hockey. That’s a luxury I don’t have for months.

Until then, I celebrate the small achievements. I celebrate that a few days ago, I got through a very minor workout – fifteen minutes on the bike, fifteen minutes on the weights – without falling over from being dizzy. I celebrate being able to drive at night again. I celebrate the vertigo, the dizzy spells, and the headaches not being quite as bad as they were weeks ago. Division 1 hockey? Right now, I’ll settle for running a mile and a half.

Hopefully, I’ll never have to celebrate these pitiful, minor victories again. Until then, I’ll settle for celebrating twenty-four hours without needing Excedrin.

1 – My first fear in writing about this is that I’ll be perceived as soft, particularly among peers in the hockey community. But this is a good time to mention that the man calling me a “crazy motherfucker” has seen me literally skate a shift with a nosebleed with a towel held to my nose, saw me finish a game despite literally not knowing where I was on multiple occasions, and remembers the years of my youth when I dove into fights – both as a peacekeeper and a participant – head first. When he calls me a “crazy motherfucker”, it’s because I’ve demonstrated proof of that throughout twenty years of his knowing me.

2 – If you’re saying “you obviously weren’t stupid enough to go back to work the very next day against doctor’s orders, were you?”, you didn’t know me when I was twenty.

Posted in Personal | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hope And Change in Derby

Posted by Chris Bowen on November 12, 2013

Last Tuesday, Derby experienced what could only be called an upset: Anita Dugatto challenged a strong, incumbent mayor in Anthony Staffieri, and won. It wasn’t the only upset of the night – Ansonia put David Casetti in over James Della Volpe – but Derby’s election wasn’t just a repudiation on the mayor; it was a Democratic blowout. As of this moment, pending a few recounts1, Democrats comfortably hold the Board of Aldermen (7–2), Board of Education (6-3; all six Dems that ran, won), and Board of Appropriations and Taxation (6-4; all six Dems won again). Laura Wabno was also taken out by former mayor Marc Garofalo. Republican-endorsed Keith McLiverty held onto his Treasurer position, but only by 32 votes.

In short, it was a slaughter.

Normally, I would have a high amount of trepidation about 100% single party rule, and in some areas, I do. But for a few reasons, I actually feel good about the political situation in Derby for the first time since I moved there in 2008. A large reason for that is due to the calming effect Anita Dugatto’s campaign has had.

It should be noted just how small and unassuming Anita when you see her for the first time. I have a vague recollection of her from her time on the BoAT, and she was not someone people notice at first. Meeting her face to face for the first time at Democratic headquarters after it became clear that she had beaten Staffieri, I towered over her, at 5’9″.

And yet, she recognized me, someone she had never met, immediately. She asked if I was indeed Chris, and when I confirmed I was, she held my arm up and yelled “Chris Bowen is here!”. It was a bit mortifying, but it reflected the attention that Anita pays to everything in the City, something I remember from her time as a very inquisitive member of the BoAT. She would ask intelligent, probing questions, and develop a solution from there. Beneath that unassuming appearance lies a sharp, inquisitive intellect that takes in all details.

She also possesses mounds of charm. She visited my mother during her rounds when she was working to gain notice for the Mayorship, and my mother couldn’t stop raving about her, causing occasional consternation. At the time, I was still highly skeptical of a woman who had some weird views on local property rights, a sore subject with us trying to revitalize downtown. Since then, I have been able to look past this honest disagreement on the role of government in local property rights.

Derby has long been run, not just by men, but Men, Men with big egos and bigger mouths, who have fought with each other for decades, waging proxy wars on behalf of their friends and families. Police commissioners have been fired because of spats between the principal parties’ children regarding businesses. A mayor ran for, and won, an election largely because of a personal insult. At a time when economic stimulus is needed, the only stimulant we’ve received is testosterone. In plain English, the Men have fucked things up royally, engaging in their own pissing contest for their own personal gain, and Derby’s citizens don’t have a big enough umbrella to keep from getting wet.

Anita doesn’t impress me because of her genitalia. She impresses me because I believe she’s going to make an honest effort to undo of the damage that the past two administrations – at least – have caused with their interpersonal bickering. 2

Before I go any further in talking about how I expect the next two years to go better than the last four or so, allow me to say some words in defence of Anthony Staffieri.

I like Tony. He’s a good man. And I don’t think his actions that I disagreed with were the result of some kind of political conspiracy; simply put, I don’t think he’s savvy enough to be that cynical. Some of his people are – Joseph Coppola comes to mind, but that’s also his job – Tony is the kind of person who, if you say something he doesn’t like, will go right to your face and tell you to go fuck yourself.

Unlike a lot of people, I like that. One of the reasons I voted for him in 2011 was that he ran an up-front campaign. A little loose with the facts, but I’ve started to view that as status quo in running for a political office; it’s simply my job as a voter and commentator to separate the fact from the BS. It was far better than that which Democrats ran, which involved banning citizens from their Facebook page for asking questions and then denying it, outright lying about things in the Mayor’s record, and in the end, having a sockpuppet account attack a man who was known to be a Staffieri supporter by bringing up a years-old road rage allegation. Tony campaigned like he governed: in your face, here’s my position, and to hell with those that don’t like it. I’m fine with that; it makes me a lot more comfortable to deal with someone coming at me from the front, than someone sneaking in from behind.

The last two years, I must admit, have been a dumpster fire. He did favours for political allies like Joseph Bomba. He vetoed an alderman’s vote to have an investigation done into the Katherine Kulhawik case3. Downtown went nowhere, again. Under no circumstances should Anthony Staffieri have been reelected.

A lot of the reason for the decline in performance, I believe, was that when you’re in a position of power, that means being attacked – for reasons large and small – by people who want to take that power from you and give it to themselves. Fending off those people takes energy, which is in finite supply. Eventually, the effort to ward off political attacks becomes so great that it takes away from the things a politician sets out to do in the first place. It’s a rare politician who can govern while not letting such complaints hamper him one iota – love him or hate him, Shelton’s Mark Lauretti is definitely in this category – and eventually, I think Tony just wore down. He became so preoccupied with protecting his turf from outsiders that he didn’t notice that parts of it were on fire.

I was personally done with Anthony Staffieri as my mayor, but I have no problem with him as a person. Here’s hoping he finds some time to relax now that his time in office is over.

From the standpoint of what I feel needs to be done to Derby, the election could not have gone any better. As I’ve stated in the past, my economic beliefs tend to be Keynesian in nature, so with a depressed local economy, investment is the answer. I’ve been particularly interested in buttressing what is known to be one of the lowest performing school systems in the state of Connecticut with more than just token money that doesn’t stave off cuts. Beyond that, the most damaging thing to happen to Derby politics has been the politicians, or more specifically, the pervasive party politics that have hampered even small moves, with everyone angling to get ahead and screw the other side. What better way to end a two party stand-off than making one of those parties completely irrelevant?

However, single-party rule – and that’s what we have, since the Board of Aldermen now has a supermajority – only works for a little bit of time before problems prop up. This is regardless of political affiliation, as both excessive deregulation and complete ignorance of female and minority rights in the South, and the insidious influence of workers unions and corruption in the Northeast and large cities have made clear. In some places, that majority can’t be broken; the South will always be a GOP because they believe Jesus is a Republican, and big cities will always be Democratic strongholds simply because

I do believe that Dr. Anita is not only sincere about reaching out, but has proven in the past that she will do it. However, also consider what I wrote about the person she is replacing just one section up. She will be attacked by people who want her power, by people bitter about this past election, and by people who just don’t like Democrats because something something socialism. And though it was voter disdain for Staffieri’s leadership that put her into office, the first tax increase of any kind will be met with stiff opposition, particularly on the east end of the city. Staffieri’s reaction to opposition was to bully his way through it; in short, he could be a raging dick. Anita strikes me as more of a thinker, but that will only get her so far in the face of dedicated opposition and opportunism. Will she be able to weather those first few storms? Can she become a hard-nosed bitch when that’s warranted?

All of that is down the road. There’s still transitional work to be done, new boards to swear in, and time for Dr. Anita, who owns her business virtually next door to Staffieri’s old restaurant, to get comfortable in her chair before her political opponents start to put fire under it. Derby voters, including myself, gave her and her team a mandate to do what is necessary, knowing the cost in increased taxes, to make Derby right again. Here’s hoping they have the wherewithal to pull it off, and the discipline to not go to the other extreme.

1 – As of right now, one Democratic alderman has a two vote advantage over a Republican rival. If that holds, the advantage will be 7-2 Democrats

2 – It’s a lot of this that kept me from voting for Ron Sill as my Ward’s alderman. I like Ron, I think he’s a good guy, but being the longest serving alderman in Derby history is not something I’d put in the win column at this point.

3 – It should be noted that the Aldermen eventually saw the report in private, and voted 7-1 to withhold the report from the public. This vote was simply inexcusable on all counts, and credit to Art Gerckens for being the lone dissenting vote.

EDIT: In an earlier version of this article, I incorrectly stated that the count that the Valley Indy had was not accurate. At the time I wrote it – almost a week ago – the state’s numbers weren’t out yet, which is what the site ended up using. I apologize for the error.

Posted in Local Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Richie Incognito And The Male Disease

Posted by Chris Bowen on November 11, 2013

incognitoI forget the guy’s name, but I’ll never forget the time my home town of Seymour effectively beat a kid to Florida.

The Seymour High School football team1, in my freshman year of 19952, got in a lot of trouble because the parent of one kid reported the hazing that her son – someone I knew, but wasn’t very good friends with – went through and wanted answers. What kind of hazing? How about softball-sized welts on his back from being whipped, while tied up, by weightlifting belts that reportedly were made wet to make them hurt more. Basically, imagine being hit by the leather part of a championship wrestling belt after it’s been sitting in water for an hour and you have an idea. That’s the kind of thing a plantation owner would do to a belligerent slave.

However, this woman and her family made one key mistake: they didn’t get anyone else on board. Other people who took that barbaric abuse didn’t back him up, and other players, upper classmen, called him out. Things only got worse from there, as the entire school, and eventually the entire town of Seymour turned against him and his family. I don’t remember specifics, but he got abused far more, and far worse, as time went on. Eventually, the family moved to Florida, and though I don’t know them personally, it’s patently obvious that they moved because their son was being abused to the point of cruelty, not just by the jocks who turned on him, but by a town that abandoned the snitch, the heretic, and the one who could have hurt the season of a team two years off a conference championship. I mean, God Damnit, we have to beat Torrington! We have to beat Torrington!!!

When I think of the barbarity of what Richie Incognito is guilty of, I think back to that 15 year old kid who was abandoned by adults because he was deemed soft by the kangaroo court of a small town who takes its football way too seriously.

”This is the male disease. It’s called, being full of shit!”
– George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops

The saddest part of the Richie Incognito abuse of Jonathan Martin isn’t that it pissed off a bunch of small town yokels who aren’t even blue collar enough to be called “hicks” and brought on predictably spastic responses. It’s actually been the response of people who report on, and are involved with, professional sports for their profession. Grown men who can no longer ignore the increasing cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – C.T.E., or the degenerative brain condition that effectively killed everyone from Dave Duerson (NFL) to Bob Probert (NHL) – and the pain and despair players have after their playing days due to their inability to cope with post-athletic life, and who know these players directly, talk to them, are in the locker rooms, and have celebrated a game that slowly and depressingly has killed its athletes for decades to the point where the NFL had to give a bunch of them a lot of blood money to make them go away. Some guy named J.R. Gamble made a point that the NFL “doesn’t need anymore bad publicity” while calling Martin “soft”. In fact, Martin’s “softness” is at the crux of the whole reaction. Miami’s locker room has picked a side, and it was entirely behind the man who called his teammate a “half nigger piece of shit”. Laughably, players are even saying that the white Incognito is more black than the half-black Martin – that’s a whole other issue about just what “black” is, onto itself – because of his perceived sensativity, Stanford education, and his upper middle class upbringing. It brings back memories of old Chris Rock skits.

Some former players – with Mike Golic leading the charge – have said that instead of leaving the team and telling people about the voice messages and the payments for lunches, Martin should have just punched Incognito in the mouth. Because that’s what I want in my locker room, the threat of serious injury from two men over 300 lbs. having a fistfight because one threatened to harm the other’s mother. Honestly, the whole practice is a little barbaric, especially when it’s coming from Miami’s General Manager, Jeff Ireland, the same person who once asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. The implication is simple: if you, as a paid professional athlete, are not willing to punch another athlete to write some banal wrong, then you’re worthless, or “soft”. And here I thought we had evolved past being apes.

The poor fuck. The poor, stupid fuck.

Another sad commentary: I’m just as guilty as Richie Incognito. Maybe not to his degree, but I am far from being a pure advocate for a healthy work environment.

Really, it started in the military, or as I know it, the first time since 5th grade that I started to lose fist fights. “Clear the shop” was the universal sign that it was going to go down, and everyone would dutifully leave the room, mainly so there would be no witnesses. There were a LOT of fights, usually over something ridiculously petty; I can’t even remember the cause of most do my fights.

But when I think back, I remember how skeptically I would view people – even people in my work centre – who threatened that barbaric method of conflict resolution, because damnit, this system works for us! No one else gets what we go through, or how we do things! We address disagreements by bashing who we disagree with, because that’s how it’s done here, and if you don’t believe in that, you’re probably a sissy, or a fag! And those are bad, because they always have been!

Kind of sounds like “The Code” you hear all of these meathead players and jock sniffing writers refer to, doesn’t it?

Even now, thinking back, I can’t imagine my workcentre having the “kinder, gentler” rules that society would normally dictate on us. The same people who reversed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, fought against the cover-up attempts regarding Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, and who fought for justice regarding Abu Ghraib – all great things – I would view with outright revulsion and disdain were they to do that in my work environment in the Navy, despite the knowledge that that work environment has made my civilian adjustment that much harder. I routinely get myself into hot water because I handle civilian situations – in all of my various careers – the way I would in the military short of punching someone, and yet, I still would not change a thing from my early 20s. I would not change handling situations, and being handled, in a very bad way that human beings do not act like, because I look back later and say it worked, somehow.

In short: I advocate the very practice that I am now condemning.

The poor fuck. The poor, stupid fuck.

What else is notable about what I just stated about my Neanderthalic work environment, bred from a notable athletic career and carried through in the “service” of my country, is that it doesn’t work. I say that I would resist efforts to change it, but that’s only because it’s what I know; my own environment is viewed with 20/20 vision through rose-tinted glasses, but empirical evidence suggests that I am completely and totally wrong. My own career in leadership suggests that I’m wrong; the times I have handled situations with a deft, sensitive touch – or, dare I say it, a civilian touch – it has largely turned out well. Any time I have forgotten that I left the military ten years ago, and competitive locker rooms before my service time, it’s usually led to problems. I’ve also never hazed anyone in my life. Here’s how I’ve handled newcomers, in my work career and my hockey career, especially as a referee supervisor: I’ve shook their hands, welcomed them in, and made them feel comfortable, because we all have a common job. Simply put, I don’t have time to put Icy Hot on someone’s balls; we have real work to do.

That’s why I don’t take seriously the dinosaurs and star-struck writers who talk about How Things Are Done In The National Football League. These people, simply put, don’t know any better, and even if they did at one point, their minds have been made mush by a sport that routinely sends its players to the morgue early, if they’re lucky; ask the family of Kasandra Perkins about that. I’m happy that Mike Golic and his brothers have made a very good living off of football, sending their children to very good colleges while still being lucid into their 50s, but Mike Golic has sounded like the worst kind of ex-athlete this past week: like one who doesn’t know when to let go, and lets the past grip everything about him. What worked for him in the 80s works now, because fuck evolution. Oh, another ex-player committed suicide, how sad. Now, how will Pittsburgh’s line hold up against the San Francisco pass rush!?

I’m not seeing a whole lot of deep thinking about this, or at least some self-awareness, and that’s distressing, because here’s what I really think: the people who can’t even look past the fact that Richie Incognito Was Just Toughening That Stanford Educated Pussy Up, and Jonathan Martin Is a Crybaby And A Coward Who Violated The Code, are cowards. Weak willed, weak minded followers who would do anything to be accepted by men they deemed stronger than they were at the time, and demand that same acquiescence from those behind them. In a way, these men are just jock sniffers themselves, too battered by a system they’re afraid of throwing them overboard to question anything happening around them, desperate for validation; validation from their fathers, validation from their coaches, from their teammates, and from the crowds at their games. So long as the music doesn’t stop, they smile their empty grins, and keep bashing people, friend and foe alike.

Now, please tell me again that Jonathan Martin is the coward here.

The poor fucks.

The poor, stupid fucks.

1 – It should be noted that Seymour has fallen on hard times, mainly because apparently, all of their good players were from Oxford, who eventually got their own high school.

2 – If my antipathy towards Seymour High athletics sounds like it comes from someone who went to another school and made his athletic bones outside of high school, you’re right; I went to Emmett O’Brien. And petty high school squabbles are so CUTE! Have fun arguing over Seymour v. Naugatuck, guys. I’ll be doing playoff college hockey in March.

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Telegraph Road, Derby CT

Posted by Chris Bowen on November 1, 2013

Spot of the former Derby Billiards

Spot of the former Derby Billiards

The elections are coming back to Derby, as they do every two years. Two years is an infinitesimal amount of time in politics, so it’s easy to become weary at the kabuki theatre we’re subjected to every other year. This side did this, and because they’re fundamentally bad people, be sure to vote for my side on election day. It’s honestly wearying – I’m shocked at how jaded I am to my local political scene, considering I’ve lived in Derby for five years now – but despite what makes sense to anyone, the people who can seemingly do nothing but bicker and make excuses are still in charge of my city. In Derby, stasis is the order of the day, as many of the people on the ballot have been on the ballot, or in power, for a very long time, bickering and arguing and fighting the same battles over and over, many of those battles dating back to their high school days.

When you have so many other distractions that don’t involve getting into, and staying in, a political office, it’s easy to lose track of things. It’s much easier to demonize your opponents and say they’re why everything’s jacked up, and you’ll fix it, than it is to actually fix it. Sometimes, people just need a reminder.

Derby political candidates, consider yourselves reminded.

The Ghosts of Yesteryear

For a brief time in my youth, I lived at 185 Main Street in Derby. It was a second floor apartment above what used to be Club Soda, a low-rent bar. It wasn’t the greatest place to live, but it was home, before I moved to Seymour. Today, that building is largely empty; I’ve heard a rumor that there’s an office on the second floor where we lived, but as far as I know, everything’s empty, including Mario’s Cafe, which seems to have been out of business for years.

Of course, when I was living there in the 80s, there were businesses all up and down the road. They weren’t exactly top-flight retail – the kind of retail we know of now just didn’t exist back then – but they were the kind of small businesses one could expect in a factory town. Next door was a small pizza place, farther down were the usual package and other smaller stores, and Derby Billiards, where I would often be taken to play video games. Just off Main Street was a little grocer called Valero’s. I don’t remember many of the specifics, but could point out areas that I knew about if shown in pictures. The stalwart was Hubbell Brothers shoes, just before the curve that takes drivers to the four-way intersection.

Housatonic Lumber.

Housatonic Lumber.

Main Street is now unrecognizable, and not because the businesses have changed. They have changed, in that they’ve largely disappeared. My old building is empty, and while the pizza place to my left is now a dance studio, to my right looks like a disaster area. Milardo’s, a place that handled floor coverings, is long gone. Across the street, another business that handled home decor is gone, and has become the headquarters for Derby Republicans trying to reelect Mayor Anthony Staffieri to his fifth term. Most telling is that the buildings that used to house Derby Billiards and Hubbell Brothers don’t even exist anymore; they were condemned and taken down as the first step in Derby’s downtown revitalization project, which is now a bipartisan laughing stock. Derby Billiards lives on in spirit next to Nuts ‘n Bolts in the form of Breaktime at Jak’s, which is every bit as shady as the old place was; Hubbell Brothers, after trying things out in the old Valley Bowl parking lot, finally closed down for good in 2010. Looking to the left, one could be forgiven for thinking they walked into downtown Detroit for a minute. A package store is still open, but barely; on it, rests a sign talking about a future auction of the building. Next to it are dead business after dead business, some of which I can’t place without relying on old Google Maps images. Just before getting on Rt. 8 lie the corpses of both Rio Grande and Lifetouch, the latter of which was used as the campaign headquarters for Derby Republicans in 2009.

There’s a poetic statement to be made there: political head butting caused a lot of this mess, so why not have politicians lie in the mess they created?

None of this takes into account the businesses that aren’t on just this stretch of road – Housatonic Lumber is a statement in and of itself on just what Derby used to be and what it isn’t now – and are off of the side roads, or past Main St. and onto Roosevelt, like Derby Cellular. It also doesn’t take into account the businesses that have died but been replaced by others, such as 500 Degrees, and the never-ending turnover in the restaurant space next to the Nutty Company. The fact is that this stretch of road is indicative of the problems that have hit both Derby, and the Valley in general.

Mario's Cafe. Before, this was known as Club Soda.

Mario’s Cafe. Before, this was known as Club Soda.

A Tailor-Made Financial Crisis

The financial recession of 2008 affected the whole country, from Wall Street to the proverbial “main street” that politicians refer to when they want to reference so-called middle America. It’s easy to blame what happened in ’08 for the problems that are befalling this area, but that’s missing a large part of the story. What we’re going through has been a long time coming; the financial crisis just brought it to a head faster.

The history of the Lower Naugatuck Valley is one of factories, and the blue collar workers that worked them. During America’s period of industrialization, the Valley was one of the most prosperous areas of Connecticut as factories sprung up around the Housatonic River to manufacture heavy metals. As that industry declined, the fortunes of this area reflected the new reality, but the area was still home to enough blue collar jobs to make living in the area worthwhile.

Since the time of my youth, however, a few things have changed.

– Factory work in the Untied States in general has plummeted. This is due to a few factors, including: automation of many routine tasks, outsourcing of work to third world countries, and decreased demand for American made goods.
– Connecticut’s economics have shifted. The state’s tax burden is among the highest in the country, and while that has shifted the state’s work force into being more white-collar, that’s only good news for Fairfield County and Hartford; it’s very bad news for a very blue-collar, conservative area with no technological footprint to speak of.
– The economic collapse and resulting recession of 2008 wrecked harder havoc on the Valley than most other areas because many of those aforementioned blue collar jobs got slashed all at once, causing drastic ripple effects on the communities.

Miliardos. I don't even remember who the other company was.

Miliardos. I don’t even remember who the other company was.

Derby, and by extension other Valley towns, have been fighting the effects of a shifting workplace – where factory jobs have been gradually replaced to shift with the changing manufacturing and workplace landscape – for a long time, decades, but the financial system crashing upon itself accelerated the decline. Nowadays, Derby, as well as the majority of the Valley, has become a bedroom community; a place for commuters working in Norwalk1, Stamford, and New York City to plop their heads and take their kids to soccer practice before going south or north (to Hartford), where the real action is. My girlfriend is probably the best example of what the Valley has become: she lives in Beacon Falls, in an apartment complex that was converted from an old factory, and works on the Norwalk/Darien border in marketing. This is no fault of her’s, and if you were to ask her it’s not even a “fault”; I’d argue it’s merely circumstance.

Seemingly, the only jobs left in Derby are those in hospitality. Restaurants are plentiful, as are jobs in retail, the latter of which are particularly plentiful on the Orange line, but as Derby Democratic mayoral candidate Dr. Anita Dugatto notes, those aren’t careers; those are transient jobs. Anyone trying to make a living off of the vast majority of the jobs in Derby who doesn’t own their own business is struggling, mightily.

What makes the above that much worse is that at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of that getting better.

Flesh Wounds vs. Crippling Disease

Naturally, with the election less than a week away, the obvious question is: how does someone fix this mess? How does someone not only fix the figurative war zone that is Main Street, or even worse, the (sometimes) actual war zone that is the areas around Olivia and Elizabeth Streets?

The easy answer is the political process. The Democrats will do this thing that the Republicans didn’t do, but the Republicans do that thing better, and whatever side I don’t like, they are fundamentally evil people, whereas I and my people on this side are God’s gift to politics, and in this election–

STOP. It’s not about this election. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. Here’s a dirty secret: the 2013 will not fix what is ailing downtown Derby. The problems in Derby are much deeper than any one election can fix.

To me, the problem breaks down easily into three major points:

This tile business is now the home of Anthony Staffieri's reelection effort.

This tile business is now the home of Anthony Staffieri’s reelection effort.

An Inbred Political Environment That Rewards Certain Connections – Everyone who works with, or close to, City Hall seems to be a friend, ally or husband/wife of someone else in power in Derby. This results in more questions than answers when it comes to former Republican aldermen being given jobs, directly on the Mayor’s order, among other issues. So and so’s wife has this job. Such and such’s friend holds another job. Even if situations like these lead to no problems, the optics are problematic.

Even beyond that, there’s a dynastic approach to local politics. Ron Sill’s wife worked at City Hall until her recent retirement. Three members of the Szewczyk family are running for various positions. Three incumbent politicians work in City Hall as their day job. Marc Garofalo’s rearing his head around again. It’s the same people, or the same peoples’ friends, and it’s getting ridiculous, especially when so many problems are affecting the City and many of these people were at the helm as things started to turn.

Broken Trust Between City Hall and Derby Citizens

The case of former tax office employee Katherine Kulhawik showed the complete and total lack of transparency in City Hall, and the resulting lack of respect voters feel they’re getting. Tax scandals are nothing new to the Valley – ask Oxford and Shelton – but whereas both Shelton and Oxford were very aggressive in taking care of their internal strife, Derby attempted to sweep everything under the rug, culminating in the Mayor vetoing a party-line request by Derby aldermen to investigate just what happened, and everything else has been handled in an executive session where minutes aren’t recorded. The implication is clear, and occasionally has been stated: if news got out how bad the damage was, residents would be very upset. Frankly, residents should be even more upset now.

The trust issue isn’t limited to Republicans. When transitioning to the Staffieri administration after former mayor Mark Garofalo was voted out of office, the latter’s administration decided to do a full shread – delete everything to the point where forensic software couldn’t recover it – of all hard drives within City Hall. In a hostile relationship that has embarrassed Derby, it was just one of many “fuck you”s between the two.

Derby voters have virtually no reason to trust anyone that they elect to office, and they are consistently given new reasons why.

A Tale of Two Derbys – I got a good earful of something at a recent meeting at Bradley School to determine the temperature for redistricting. Simply put: Derby is completely divided.

At the Bradley School meeting, the cafeteria was standing room only as parents came in to 100% slam the proposal. Good intentions on the part of Superintendent Conway were reacted to with something that was one step below a lynch mob, with many parents concerned that the Irving kids being in the same school as their children would negatively impact their own kids, as well as bring down their property values. The implication was clear: keep those poor people on the west end of town away from us.

Unfortunately, the impression that there are two Derbys was also in effect at the Irving meeting, where it was brought up by parents on both sides, with one Bradley family even noting they were intimidated to come out to Irving, and others from Irving saying the same thing about Bradley. They felt unwelcome.

The two schools are separated by five miles.

We cannot figure out what’s wrong with Derby and how to fix it until these key issues are rectified. Who’s in City Hall is irrelevant. The downtown development will forever be a fantasy. Main Street will continue to look like a shanty town. Everything that residents currently argue about is a distraction; the real issues are deep, and one two-year term before another election will barely scratch that surface.

Rio Grande Restaurant & Bar.

Rio Grande Restaurant & Bar.

Six Lanes of Traffic… Three Lanes Moving Slow

The residents that one sees when they walk on Main Street are the kind that have always lived and worked there. The immigrants who run the convenience store are every bit as hard of workers as the second generation resident who worked at Housatonic Lumber after graduating from high school. The demographics have changed, and the jobs have changed, but the makeup and character of the residents and workers hasn’t.

The major things that have changed is the condition of the remaining buildings. The population is starting to show the effects of the changes. Derby High School graduated just over 60 people in 2013; to put that in perspective, I graduated Emmett O’Brien Tech in 1999 – always smaller than the main high schools – and my class graduated 98. The population is getting progressively older, and the kids are leaving, either before high school or just after it. The thirty somethings – my age bracket – aren’t coming in, either; the ones who grew up in Derby that I know couldn’t be happier that they left, and the ones who have children in elementary school are avoiding one of the lowest scoring school systems in the state of Connecticut like the plague.

Those are the conditions of a ghost town. When the young can’t wait to get out, and the old can’t stay alive, there’s no one left.

Until those trends are reversed, and until the underlying causes for the symptoms are addressed properly, people will continue to flee. Conditions will continue to get worse. Poverty will continue to increase. And there will continue to be more boarded up windows than window shoppers on the modern Telegraph Road.

1 – Despite my extreme distaste for my city being nothing more than a glorified hotel, I’ve become guilty of perpetuating it too; I work in Norwalk.

Posted in Local Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Hundreds in Greenwich Mourn Their Murder Of Bart Palosz

Posted by Chris Bowen on September 4, 2013

Image courtesy of Greenwich Patch, via the Palosz family.

Image courtesy of Greenwich Patch, via the Palosz family.


“This is a eulogy, as so rather than making it a lecture on what and who failed Bart, it is most important at this time to celebrate Bart’s life, and to grieve over our tragic loss.”

The eulogy for Bart Palosz, who Greenwich High sophomore who committed suicide after the first day of school last week, was well written, emotional, and largely sidestepped the major issues that led to Mr. Palosz ending his life, after years of bullying, and indifference on the part of the Greenwich school system. Instead of naming and shaming names, it did what it was supposed to do: celebrate the life of someone who was, by all accounts, a brilliantly intelligent young man who didn’t fit in with the societal norms expected of a teenager. In short, they handled it with grace and dignity.

I don’t have nearly the same limits, and therefore, don’t require the same grace and dignity.

Let’s be blunt: the larger community of Greenwich killed Bart Palosz. They might not have pulled the trigger on the shotgun, but through equal parts bullying and depraved indifference, they might as well have. What’s striking about this young man is that he really was the better person in just about any case one could think of; he was outright told that he should fight back, but ultimately decided that it wouldn’t be “right”. He took his beliefs to the grave when it became too much to deal with.

The reason it became too much to deal with is because of the stupid, lazy and downright incompetent people that have been involved with the schooling of this poor kid since he started to receive abuse, not to mention the inhuman devils that literally beat him into submission. People were told throughout the years that the bullying was getting worse and worse, and administrators continued to put their heads in the sand. They had union meetings to attend, I guess. And really, Greenwich is rich; couldn’t they afford a shrink? We have almost 2,500 students to address! How could we notice the subtle and understated clues that he was giving?

Naturally, this kid should have just sucked it up. After all, everyone is bullied at some point in their lives, and we all turned out fine! That’s some of the sentiment I hear about the suicide of a kid. Local resident Tony Mammone, who is such a buffoon I’m not even going to play nice by just calling him a “local resident”, summed up this mindset in a Facebook thread:

Everyone faces some sort of bullying growing up. It is more widely publicized now. Quit coddling the youth today as it is making them a bunch of overly sensitive babies.

(…)

Idiot? Ok thanks. I did read the article. I was the fat kid growing up. I got teased for it and ‘bullied’ it’s part of growing up. If the kid shoots everyone in school, he a menace. If he kills himself, he’s bullied. Why not speak up, and ask for help.

Anyone saying this is thinking back to some idyllic time where people all mostly got along, and the worst anyone did was occasionally receive a swirly. I was bullied a lot as a kid, and in some cases, I got it *bad*. Some of it, I’ll never forget, and some of it, I’ll never forgive, even in my 30s, a time when I really should be over it. I was able to survive, and even thrive after the fact, but there were a few key differences:

1) Bart Palosz is a better person than I was. He wouldn’t strike people back. I, on the other hand, fought a lot. This frequently meant I had to fight four or five on one, granted, but a lot of bullying was able to be stopped simply because I got big enough and angry enough to do some damage. This is the easy answer for people my age or older, but guess what? It’s a bad answer! Violence is a bad thing! Do you know what fighting got me? More fights! More times being hurt! More times hurting other people! And no, it wasn’t limited to just people who tried to beat me up; I got very trigger-happy in my adolescence, and I’m not proud of that. Even today, my first instinct is to just punch someone who I think is a threat. I’m 33! This shit stays with you.

2) Today’s bullies are vicious. Read this post in the Daily News – of all places – where they described some of the things he went through. They bashed his head against a locker in the 8th grade, causing him to go to the ER. Someone smashed his phone in the middle of biology class. And this is just the stuff we’re hearing about in the papers! Of course the Greenwich school system is playing defense.

3) Today’s bullies don’t stop at school. When I was young, most of the time, stuff ended at school. If you lived in a rough area, sometimes it extended to that area, but you could avoid it just by going home for the most part. Today, that’s not possible for anyone who has a Facebook or Google+ account. Girls are particularly aware of this type of bullying; leave school, come home, and have people posting your half-naked picture online while filling your inbox with “whore”, “slut” or (for the boys) “fag”. Bullying is a 24/7 enterprise in 2013, and it’s getting worse.

I am aghast that no one looked at his Google+ page and decided not to get involved. I have personally gotten involved in the cases of three people who were going to kill themselves or at the very least were saying they were. I don’t mean just making a comment with ascii hearts or “~~hugz~~”, I mean calling the police. Each case involved deep information diving on my part, and calls to various police forces. Bart’s G+ profile outright says he lived in Greenwich; did no one take him seriously? Or did no one give a crap? I wish I saw this before the fact, put it that way. At the very least, it scares someone straight. At best? It could save a life. And blaming the parents in this particular case isn’t wise, either; I don’t expect Polish immigrants in their 40s or 50s, with a daughter going to college, to know their way around the internet.

So of course, the Greenwich community is positively mourning the loss of their young man. Reports came out that after Bart’s death, all of his old schools were overrun with crisis counselors to console anyone who needed it. How quaint. The people who either outright bullied Bart, or who stood by and watched it happen with at best cowardice and at worst a bemused and perverted enjoyment of the festivities. A show with lunch, how adorable. Where the fuck was Bart’s crisis team!? Where was his guidance counselor!? Where was anyone, who was in a position to stop the inhumane treatment he was receiving, day after day, year after year, throughout his entire schooling life, until he finally decided that death was a preferable solution to having to endure this torture for one more year, let alone three?

The saddest tragedy in all of this is that this will go away. The administrators in charge of Greenwich’s school system will be able to put out passive statements about doing everything they can to “look into” what happened, without actually doing anything. The people who covered up his being smashed into a locker and covering up the video footage won’t be charged with even a civil crime, much less a criminal one. The horrific human beings who slowly beat and abused him to death will not only never see the inside of a prison cell, but will not have any inconvenience, short of press attention for a few days, to their lives. If the people who did this are football players, they will never miss a game; after all, Greenwich might be good and the FCIAC is tough, you know?

It is my sincere hope against all hope that the people who are responsible for the murder – yes, murder – of Bart Palosz know what they did, and that the image of this tall, awkward but developing child haunts them every waking hour of their day. I hope they have the intellectual honesty to admit – if only to themselves – that they – students, administrators, teachers – are directly responsible for the death of this person, and that the combination of that realization and their natural cowardice causes them to experience a gradual mental breakdown, as the weight of their crimes works at their conscience like a pickaxe on a rock, breaking them down farther and farther until they become husks of their former selves. Then, and only then, can they understand what they did to this man. The Christians can save their adorable notions on forgiveness for Sunday mass. I want these people to suffer for the rest of their lives, and to die broken people.

Sadly, I might be asking too much. Empathy is a human emotion, after all. These people who systematically killed a child aren’t human.

Posted in Local News | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Police State Came To Greenwich

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 29, 2013

metronorthPeople ask me why I have such a strong, visceral distrust – at best – for the police. “They’re there to help you!” “You should respect their sacrifice!” “They’re just doing their jobs!” I am told this by the people closest to me in life; the mother who was protected by the third shift police she served while waiting tables to raise me, the girlfriend who comes from a family of Irish cops, I catch flak for my stance often. “But Chris, not all cops are like that!”, I’m told. Well, I guess we’ll just put neon “bad cop” signs on the ones that aren’t.

Today showed a pretty good exhibit A on why I feel the way I do.

My daily routine includes getting on what is currently the 5:26 train from Westport, meeting up with my girlfriend on the train, dropping off in Bridgeport, and then getting on the Waterbury bound train for our destinations; her’s in Beacon Falls, mine in Derby. Today, that was shot to hell as we heard, as soon as my bus shuttle got to the train station, that the 5:26 train was delayed due to “police activity”. I later found out what it was: police searching for a bank robber. To be fair, locking down Metro North – especially with the report of an armed person potentially riding the train – was the right move. It was the way they did it that I find particularly galling:

“At one time, when the SWAT team arrived in full gear, they said, ‘Everyone get off your seat and on the ground and put your hands in the air,’” Paschos said.

(…)
“Something major going on at #Greenwich train station,” Jennifer Garcia, of Long Island City, posted. “Cops have guns drawn, searching every car on my train.”
In another tweet, Garcia said passengers were forced to keep their arms raised as police searched the cars.

Let’s review: a train full of people just trying to go home, who have no clue what’s going on, are told by armed thugs with huge guns and vicious dogs to stand up and keep their hands up, prone, until further notice.

If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, you are a special kind of coward, and deserve no security or liberty. There’s really no middle ground.

If you support having to keep completely prone and vulnerable, hands high, in full submission, assumed guilty until proven innocent, you stand for exactly the opposite of the freedom that this country was founded upon.

There’s this mindset – usually among caucasian, white collar civilians, I’ll note – that the police are infallible, and even if they make a mistake, they have to be trusted to protect you. Speaking out in opposition to this mindset brands one a troublemaker who deserves watching. This is a notion that has been systematically destroyed over the past 50 years. Police officers armed with very large guns and very bad attitudes – weather in homes, on the road, or on a train – have been treating the citizens they’re supposed to protect like an insurgent force that must be dispatched. It’s dissipated down to regular patrols, where three cops and a K9 seem to be necessary to do anything; that was the composition of the team that tied me up, before saying a single word, like a pork dumpling, with my wrists shackled to my ankles behind me, for the grievous offense of driving my car onto an unused football pitch at 1.5 MPH with the intention of using my headlights to look for a discus. This wasn’t in Bridgeport; this was in small-town Seymour, CT. I got off easy; the news is filled to the brim of people and pets who were shot and murdered by police forces – who would go on to do their utmost best to cover up their crimes – simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, moving in a subtle way that made a psychotic individual fire and forget. The most recent case is that of six cops using a taser to detain one (1) 18 year old skateboarder, and then high-fiving over his twitching body, one that would soon become a corpse. His offense? Graffiti.

These are the people who I am supposed to trust with my life? These are my “protectors”?

If one thinks that in this specific case, such an awful, fascist mindset is plausible, take yourself through the mindset of what it takes to actually acquiesce to such a degree. A SWAT team officer, a regular police patrolman, you, I, everyone, we all put our pants on the same way. Anyone not reading this from a penitentiary is a competent, fully-grown adult who is capable and expected to conduct ourselves in a way that takes care of ourselves and our own, as long as we don’t infringe upon the rights of others. In short, I am no less of a man than anyone who had those guns today. I am supposed to bear my proverbial belly just because another man says so? And to do it not only without complaint, but with a smile, safe in the knowledge that my goodness, my saviors are here to save the day? I am now officially viewed as so inferior that I am automatically a threat just by being somewhere? I am a law abiding citizen; why should I be treated like a criminal until some higher power determines that I am worthy of my inalienable rights?

My country has become an Orwellian parody.

Technically, I don’t even really have a right to complain. After all, even though I’m a large, athletic man who can do some damage in a fight, I’m still a young white man who rides in a predominately affluent area; Westport is basically Greenwich for old people. Imagine if I was black? Or hispanic? Or – God help me – of Middle Eastern origin!? It’s pretty obvious how I’d be treated.

However, a funny thing happened on the Waterbury train. My girlfriend and I sat across from a couple of middle-aged women in business attire – caucasian, because despite our “post-racial” society, this matters – were reading the story about the bank robbery, and paid particular mind to the part about everyone having their hands up waiting for their heroes to let them go home. To them, the mindset was appalling; one even noted that it would be frightening, and that they hadn’t really thought about it before.

Everyone’s a sheep until the manger’s on fire, I guess.

Ultimately, the only real cost to my day was that I got home later than I wanted to, too late to make it to play basketball. My girlfriend missed an appointment, but it’s one she’ll be able to make in two weeks with no damage. For us, who were stops ahead of Greenwich, this was nothing more than an inconvenience. However, we need a societal upheaval against the very notion that our police can detain and completely incapacitate hundreds of people to catch one guy who’s dressed like a rejected Bond villain and didn’t even fire a shot (by the way, this would be a good time to mention that they didn’t catch him. They failed in their goal. They used a nuke to kill a fly, and the fly lived). It’s dangerous to a free society to have this mindset, and in all honesty, modern police forces have not even come close to earning this level of trust. It is everyone’s duty to try to apprehend someone who can put the lives of others in danger, but it is an equal duty to fight back against the vice of the police state.

Posted in Local News, Local Politics, Personal | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The Killing Road

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 20, 2013

lepricrossIn my time as a writer and as a journalist and blogger, I have taken a lot of pictures of events, people, and things. My job has largely been video games, not war photography. But I can never remember a time when I was in as much danger as when I got the shot to the left of this paragraph.

To get this shot, I had to walk along what we locally call Pink House Cove. It’s a brutal stretch of road; a 40MPH, blind curve with two way traffic. On one side of the road, you have a guard rail protecting the Housatonic River. On the other side, you have a small mountain that turns certain curves into guessing games because you can’t see what’s coming from the other end. Both sides feature virtually no shoulder, so there’s nowhere to go if something goes wrong. I walked along the inside curve of the mountain to get to this site to be able to get this picture, not being able to see where the cars were and – worse – them not being able to see me. I stayed to the inside as far as I could, but it never felt like enough; one person coming too fast, or over-correcting to the inside, could make me the middle of a crunchy sandwich. I’m a brave man who has survived a war, but I am not without feeling, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a touch afraid for my life as I walked about 1/8th of a mile to this spot.

Despite all that, I managed to get across the street and into a good enough position, on the other side of the guard rail, to get the shot.

Why would I risk my life like this, on a notorious road at sundown? Easy: the shot is the memorial cross for Marie Lepri, who died on June 7th, 2010, killed by someone driving this very curve too aggressively. And it’s my vain hope that my own little bit of risk helps drive enough attention to this road to make sure that Marie, and the other people who have died on this road over the years, didn’t die in vain. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Local News, Personal | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Breaking Down Bad: The Subtle Changes of the Ageing Athlete

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 14, 2013

I’ve been involved in competitive athletics for my entire life. Be it hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, boxing or even rugby, I’ve been athletic in some way, shape or form. I even spent my senior year as a male cheerleader1. This has been routine for me; I’m far from being a fitness warrior, but despite my weight – a shade under 260 these days, and fluctuating between 225 and 235 before getting injured recently – I have the ability to move quickly, gain speed, and have the endurance to referee multiple hockey games at a high level, one after another. Basically, at 260, I look like I’m 220, move like I’m 210, and would not look out of place on a small college’s defensive line.

However, I fear that those days are coming to an end. Not necessarily because I’m heavy – though that certainly doesn’t help my case – but just because of the creeping presence of Father Time. In athletic terms, I’m getting old, and the adjustment to that new reality is gradual enough to the point where I am constantly surprised at how the things that came easy for me in the past are coming harder now.

Since I hit adulthood, I have known my body pretty well. Not just the “stats” – how much can I lift, how far and fast can I run, what are my times in skating drills – but how my body reacts to and recovers from a serious workout. It’s hard to quantify into words, but it’s a give and take; I know generally how my body’s going to react to so much stimuli, depending on how much I’d been giving it prior. The less I’ve done for, say, a week, the more I’m going to feel it the next day after I give it a good rutting.

The only problem with that is that as I hit my mid-30s, the old rules don’t work anymore. I first noticed changes last hockey season. My feet were heavier, even if my overall weight wasn’t. My speed was down. I wasn’t getting from point A to point B as quickly. Sure, I *felt* like I was, but I felt like I had to sprint more to get to point B than I had in the past. As for agility issues such as getting out of a tight spot, forget it; there was a delay between my brain telling my body to move and my body finally getting around to it; the best athletic parallel would be to a baseball player’s bat speed slowing down, forcing him to anticipate pitches more. Needless to say, I got caught on my front foot, so to speak, more often than I was comfortable with last year. It became especially notable on a basketball court, where holes that I was used to hitting were closing a lot faster than I was used to. Are kids – I mostly play with and against teenagers or college students – getting faster, or is it me? I’ve always been big, but last year was the first one where I noticed it.

Furthermore, recovery was a problem. After a long weekend of games, I would go home baked, and would be almost useless the next day as well. I’m used to being tired, but not drop-dead exhausted. My energy reserves weren’t what they were. The obvious answer to many people is simply to drop weight, but even that takes more work than it did even a few years ago. With almost no changes to my diet except dropping soda, I was able to drop 30 pounds years ago by simply adding some cardio to my workout. Now, I can do all the cardio I want, and I might drop 5 pounds in a month, tops. Serious changes will have to happen to my diet – my entire lifestyle – in order to facilitate what are ultimately diminishing results.

Then, I hurt my ankle. First, I sprained the right one; then, I did something to the left one while favouring the right. The resulting pain from both cost me a week’s worth of work and essentially a month off of most physical activity. Immediately, I gained almost 20 pounds, just to start. Then, the rehabilitation started, and it was brutal. I don’t stretch as well as I used to, for one, and when I started getting more into cardio-based workouts, I wasn’t getting stronger, as quickly, as before, and my ability to move, while easy to come back from before, was now seriously hampered.

If all of these symptoms hit me at once, I think I’d have an easier time adjusting, but this has come on gradually. I’ve always said in the past “I’m not as ______ as I used to be” – fast, strong, agile – but it isn’t until recently when I looked around and noticed that this was a trend and not a blip. Of course, it’s natural for this to happen; in some sports, I would be well washed up even as a professional by now. Tennis players are usually done or getting there by the time they hit 33 – Roger Federer, probably the greatest tennis player I’ve ever seen2, is on the downswing of his career at 32 – and most soccer players are winding down at this age as well. Football players that aren’t kickers or quarterbacks are almost surely finished at this age. Basketball players start to trend downward by the time they hit 30; at 33, they’re usually well into their downswing. None of this softens the blow, mind you; you never know Father Time is near you until he taps you on the shoulder and says hello.

If one could apply the five stages of grief to my realization of my athletic mortality, I would just be getting past depression and into acceptance. During the season, I denied that I was slowing down; I just need to sleep more, do this, eat that, etc. Then I got angry (“why am I having struggles keeping up!?”), and bargained my way around it (“maybe if I try this instead, or take that pill in the morning…”). The depression’s the worst; the fear that the peak of a very real, and very severe, part of life has passed and it’s all downhill from here. The fear that though we’re slowing down now, that’s going to continue, against everything we do to slow down that process, until we become too old to reasonably perform at whatever it is we’re doing. Imagine doing something for your entire life, and then losing that thing, years before you even hit what people would consider “old age”; that’s what we go through as we hit the latter half of our life, and the mere thought of it is daunting, let alone actually experiencing it.

In the meantime, all I can do is keep working. Keep trying to eat better. Keep trying to beat times from my younger days that will become farther and farther from my reach as if they were being washed out on low tide. As my body continues to show the effects of wear, tear and youthful mistakes, I’ll need to not only learn, but accept that the journey will have to become more of a joy than the destination ever was.

1 – Don’t laugh. I had more fun doing cheerleading than I’ve had in any other “real” sport.

2 – Sorry, Sampras.

Posted in Personal, Sports | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Price Of Misguided Bravery

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 7, 2013

It’s amazing the things that will stem from a joke.

A friend from work linked me to a piece about former Patriots star Teddy Bruschi performing Rush hist. Bruschi – who I don’t care for since his whole post-career path has been to talk bad about other players on the radio – singing Rush hits is so screwed up that my next joke was as easy as it was kind of cruel: “CTE is a cruel mistress”1; a bit of a cruel joke considering the effects it has on people, but maybe a bit more authentic coming from someone who has suffered ten recorded – recorded concussions, and who knows how many more that weren’t documented. It was his next statement that got my attention: “Bruschi has a stroke, and played damn near the next day”.

For some reason, apropos of nothing we had been talking about, a light bulb went on in my head. It illuminated, like a neon Eat At Joe’s sign, something that I hadn’t said in the past, and will come across as hypocritical for those who know me best:

What a fucking idiot.

As noted above, this is a curious statement from me. I did not receive ten recorded concussions by accident. A lifetime of athletics and a few timely accidents while in the Navy were enough for me, and on a couple of occasions – particularly one incident in 2004 – I came away much worse for wear, suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome, a fate I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

However, it’s not the concussions so much as it is the reaction to them. Each and every time I was able to, I either got up and finished what I was doing or attempted to. When I fell 30′ off an aircraft carrier onto a small boat so hard that I cracked a bulletproof windshield, I went on watch the very next morning. Every time except 2004 that I’ve received a concussion, I’ve finished the game, or slogged through it; the last one, I finished the tournament, the only exceptions being times when medical personnel have stepped in and intervened. Ultimately, I’ve always come back too quick, or never left a game or job when I should have, and this is notwithstanding other times I’ve had serious injuries, including a badly sprained ankles – plural – that had me trying to walk around work despite the fact that I literally could not walk. And I work a desk job.

Why would I go against my own body so many times? Blame machismo, or the fear of looking weak. That fear – of being fundamentally inferior to people around you who might or might not be tougher, and working through more, and destroying your usefulness as a human being by simply being more – has driven people to do desperate things for millennia. Ultimately, no one cares if you’re injured; dispose of the weak. All that matters is performance.

Any doubts as to this are quickly shuttered when hearing a fan talk about a famous athlete who’s injured. “What? I have to get up every morning and go to work, get that asshole on the field!” Oftentimes, being called soft is one of the worst insults you can give someone, weather in athletics or outside of it. So we do whatever we can to avoid that. Take Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins for example, who was almost legally dead by the time game 6 ended. For those who didn’t click through, he had, by the end of game 6, cracked ribs, a separated shoulder, and a PUNCTURED LUNG. He needed two nerve blocks to get through it… and yet, during the last shift of the season, the last minute and a half, the most important shift the Bruins have had in any of our lifetimes, he was trying to get the tying goal.

His opposite, also in Boston, is Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been injured a bit lately, and even Dr. James Andrews is suggesting that his issues aren’t 100% physical. Due to this, the pitcher with the sub-2.00 ERA is being subjected to calls that he needs to be weeded out by the local blowhards on the radio, blowhards who say he doesn’t “fight”.

When I was younger, I would have called Bergeron a hero and Buchholz a sissy. I’m not so sure anymore.

Buchholz is basically being slammed for not pitching through pain – with a quirky motion that requires every part of his body to be working in concert, mind you – in the months of July and August. He’s actually said it’s not “do or die”, so it’s not a big deal, which doesn’t fly in Boston. And yet, isn’t Boston the last place the late Junior Seau played? That same Junior Seau who was so jacked up by concussions throughout his career with the Chargers and Patriots that he shot himself in the heart to preserve his brain? Seau was tough. Seau showed “fight”. And Seau, like Dave Duerson, Bob Probert and Chris Benoit behind them, are all dead, early, as a result of that toughness.

Answer me this, Bruins fans: is that what you want for Patrice Bergeron? Do you care if his injuries that he plays through now – and he’s had a few concussions already – come back to him in his 50s?

I’m glad that there’s finally pushback against this Neanderthal’s mindset. Writing for Yahoo!, Nick Cotsonika asked if Bergeron went too far in playing, and if the Bruins went too far in letting him on the ice, a viewpoint that is starting to see traction. While the usual jock sniffers in the Boston media were praying to the Bergeron altar, I was too chastened by the damaging effects of the “warrior” mentality – an utterly laughable idea for anyone who isn’t actually in a war where lives are at stake – to really think of Bergeron and his caretakers as anything other than fools and buffoons.

Yet having said all of that, the conditioning is very hard to eliminate. When I think back at all the times I either did myself harm, or could have, by hanging in there, including the time I finished that tournament on a concussion, when I think of doing anything differently, I flinch. The mere notion of appearing weak is stomach-turning, and even with the pain I endured, and the pain I will endure later in life, I can’t imagine going back and pulling myself from that tournament, or not going back on watch after falling off of an aircraft carrier. Even now, with hindsight being 20/20, I still have enough courage to endure tremendous amounts of pain and potentially crippling injury, but not enough courage to endure the possibility of a couple of simpletons questioning some vague notion of manliness.

I already live with the consequences of so many concussions, and so many other injuries. My time as a hockey player ended at 24 with a blown out ligament in my ankle that I never got properly fixed. My head injuries are already taking a slight toll on my life in minor ways that I have a feeling are going to add up over the years. Ultimately, I’m just a lower-level college official, in no way a professional level athlete. These guys are, and though they gain adulation and worship by people paying good money to watch them, I think it’s time we start asking if the price is totally worth it.

I’d love to ask Junior Seau if it is, but…

1 – CTE is short for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is basically a degenerative condition where the brain, after suffering repeat trauma, becomes more and more damaged, causing severe behavioural changes in people suffering from it. Picture a smokers’ lungs; that’s what CTE does to the human brain.

Posted in Personal, Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Want To Respect Veterans? Don’t Patronize Us

Posted by Chris Bowen on July 23, 2013

On my last leave before separating from the Navy in 2003, I came home and, during that time, attended a playoff game for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. My mother, unknown to me, slipped a note to the PA announcer that it was my birthday, and that I was an active service member. Later in the game, as they do during every game, they announced the birthdays. Happy birthday to this kid and that girl and this old guy and at the very end “a special happy birthday to returning Navy Petty Officer Chris Bowen!” I got a standing ovation at a Sound Tigers game, which I could no longer ignore because the camera was on me. Players tapped their sticks on the ice. People who haven’t been in that position imagine it to be something that anyone could possibly want: validation that the long nights, the yelling, and the bullets are worth it.

Frankly, I found it mortifying at the time, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s become even more so. Not because I was suddenly being applauded by thousands of people, but because to me, the whole exercise of thanking veterans for our service has rung hollow. It rings hollow because the whole notion of “thanking” a veteran isn’t born out of sincerity. It’s born out of a carefully constructed ploy to get civilians behind any war that the government advocates. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »