Fire, Wind, Water. Can Disaster Change Your Life for the Better?

In the midst of what will likely be the worst forest fire in the history of Colorado, The High Park Fire, I think of Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola, the disaster that brought us here, and my first post on this blog.

Those suffering from this fire: These are times that will not only test you, but can break you.

Don’t let it.

Can disaster change your life for the better?

September 16, 2004 I awoke at two a.m. to pitch black, wind howling outside, and a curious sound in the bedroom: my dog lapping water. But our wonderful blond lab, Maggie, lay at our feet, sleeping. The sound was swamp water percolating under the baseboards. Rolling off the mattress, my wife and I waded into stinky water, floating Purina Dog Chow and paper shredder confetti–welcome to the parade.

I’d had a great year: both daughters got married, I caught a 150 lb. tarpon on a fly rod, started a promising practice with great docs, and my son had orchestrated a surprise fiftieth birthday party. I was writing my first novel, a horror, techno-thriller about fictional events after 9/11, sure to outsell Steven King.

The day before the water came, the news said it was a monster: Hurricane Ivan, Cat 5 in the Gulf. I smashed one thumb and nearly fell off the ladder boarding up the second story windows. This made the inside a tomb of darkness, the garage door the only exit. Lynn and I discussed leaving the state. We filled the bathtubs, organized canned food and peanut butter (I could live off peanut butter and honey sandwiches for weeks), then moved the computer upstairs along with the important papers, dog food, fresh batteries in flashlights, etc.

At 7 p.m., in purple-olive twilight and paltry wind and misty rain, I played fetch outside with Maggie. No big deal. The news announced Ivan would weaken to Cat 3 at landfall. We decided to stay. Yes! No waiting for a week after the storm to get back over the bridge while looters had a field day, or water leaks went from tiny to disastrous.

We hunkered down—that’s hurricane talk—in our upstairs bedroom. The wind howled, trying to tear off the roof … right over our heads. No thank you. We trundled everything back downstairs, including a mattress, to the bedroom our son vacated last week. After all, our neighborhood had never flooded in recorded history. Who needed flood insurance? Our house had survived two other Cat 3’s with piddling damage. No prob.

Right. We’d never been in the northeast quadrant. Apparently we forgot.

For weeks afterwards we survived in a post-flood environment that reminded me of Sarajevo: feral dogs, fetid piles of rubbish, no water or AC, roving, camouflaged National Guard Humvees, and Red Cross water and food tents. I nearly lopped off a leg chain-sawing shattered trees, screwed up a knee replacing wallboard, and continued to work forty-hour weeks, sitting in rubbish-removal traffic jams for hours.

It shook our hearts and souls like a dirty rug. But we couldn’t get clean. The neighbors had the first, and last, Tiger Point trailer-trash party in their camper on their driveway next to the POD that held all their worldly goods. Their home was unlivable.

We sang, we drank, but we all knew: Never again.

The biggest lessons we learned? Things can be replaced. Loved ones cannot. Go after your dreams. Now.

My wife and I moved to Colorado, closer to roots and family. I wrote and guided fly fishing. She became a hooker—wool art hooking, okay. We camped in Yellowstone with Maggie. Then I realized I was not Steven King; gas prices skyrocketed; the adult kids moved back; guiding fly fishing made no money.

Time to go back to what I knew best, doctoring. I went to work for the VA.

Hurricanes and fire are nothing compared to war. War crippled our best, their bodies and minds. But not their souls.

Veterans taught me disaster can change your life for the better.




Pay Attention, It’s Cool!

Have you ever had one of those moments of clarity that rivaled Plato, or Leonardo da Vinci? Maybe the Dalai Lama or Tom Petty? We’re talking moments, okay.

They seem to come to me when I’m exercising, like riding my bike, or lately, walking and listening to Pandora. (You can listen while you read by clicking here Lynyrd Skynyrd and Barenaked Ladies does it for me. Okay, Tom Petty, too.

Today it was the bike ride. I decided to really pay attention to things around me and boy was it cool. (Who says cool, anyway? Me.)
A robin flew with me for thirty yards, off to my left flank, glancing at me, keeping pace, flap and coast, waiting for me to catch up. I could see his feathers flutter in the wind, and his eye keeping an eye on me. Then he cruised over to a fence, lit, and glanced back as I pedaled on. I waved bye. That was cool.

The smell of fresh mown grass on the Cathy Fromme Prairie; the piercing, plaintive song of the Meadow Lark, (and the in-between chirps, like preparing for the opera); the clacks and squeaks of the red wing blackbird; the feel of the rhythm in my pedaling and breathing; the gray clouds gathering from the mountains and cooling the air; the many greens and textures of trees. All of this kept me company today. Yeah. Cool. Click on both videos together and get the real feel.

Not on the bike ride, but most important to observe is family. My grandson saw me for the first time in five days (I was away fishing–go figure), and ran to me with arms outstretched, yelling, “PahPas.” When he hugged me I could feel it in my chest, and my eyes watered. The best cool there is.

Maybe the exercise is like flushing the old stagnant blood from the boulders of gray cells and putting in new oxygenated blood. Yep, a fly fishing analogy. Alas. (I know–no one says “alas” anymore? Deal with it.) Maybe the last several days of fly fishing opened up my mind, kind of like putting aside a novel I wrote for a while and going back and editing and making it so much better. Time does that sometimes: makes us better.

Not sure what, but I do know it was cool . . . right up until the time I thought I was still young enough to pedal, drink water and look at the scantily clad girl walking by. Fumble water, almost break ankle trying to clip out of pedals before nearly falling. I recovered. Geez, I just looked at her. Okay, so I ogled. She walked off. Probably noted my fall in her daily journal under “Pay Attention, Dummy.” Right, she has a journal. More like a facebook page. Hope she didn’t take a video with her iPhone. I’ll have to ride at night from now on.

Anyway, maybe just paying attention to all those little things each day will help me feel good about the world and avoid anger that can lead to arguments and war. Me and Tom Petty. Don’t forget the Dalai Lama. Yeah.

In the words of the immortal, or irreverent, Bill Murray, in Caddyshack, “So, I got that going for me.”




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How to Handle Insults

“Darn, I forgot to get the eggs.” I thought I said it nicely to the young man at the checkout station in King Soopers.
“That doesn’t surprise me, gramps. You’re old.”
I’m hoping that angry young man, barely old enough to sport a whisker, will call someone to help. He merely holds out a hand towards the back of the store. “Better go get it, grandpa.”
What do you do now?
Behind door #1: I rush back and find the extra large Eggland, the most expensive, and jog back to the nice young man in his oil-speckled shirt with his sarcastic eyes.

I stand there. He finally stops texting.
He sips his Monster energy drink and eyes my eggs. “Wow. You should really stop eating those. Next thing, you’ll be having a stroke and lose more of your pathetic memory. Good thing for you we have an AED on the wall to shock your worthless old butt back to life so you can spend the next year in rehab spending the rest of my Medicare benefits.”
I open the package and smash the eggs on his head.
He pours his drink on my head. I must admit, I feel energized.
I get out my Rohrbauh r9 pistol and aim it at him. Not great for long range, but at five feet, I will have no problem etching two eyes and a smile on his forehead, à la Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. Of course this hairless, skinny-assed sixth grader only knows Mel Gibson as a priest on Signs, or a wannabe priest in real life. This little tadpole missed the good stuff, the long-haired crazy-assed Mel. And he’s going to miss a lot more.
He reaches under the counter and pulls out his Berretta 92FS. Nice gun. A bit heavy and hard to conceal, but it will do the job.

And it does.
There’s lots of blood mixing with eggs and Monster drink. The AED won’t work for either of us. Damn. He died an angry young man. I died an angry old man. Billy Joel was right.

Behind Door #2: Instead of smashing the eggs on his head, I shout, “I want the manager.” And the older woman behind me says,”Damn right. Get the manager over here for this sad excuse of a checker.”
The manager comes over, and I say, “This is the third time this month one of your checkers insulted me. I will no longer be coming to your establishment.”
All the other “time-challenged” wise people in other lines yell, “Yeah. We’re not going to take it any more!” Us old guys can be grumpy.
The manager’s eyes resemble Eggland extra-larges. “I am so sorry. How about this. For the next ten minutes all Diet Coke will be one dollar per twelve-pack. No limit.”
There’s a big crowd at the DC. Go figure. On the way back, a rather sexy brunette with a few too many wrinkles to warrant that beautiful black hair says, “This store has gone downhill with that new manager. I don’t care if he gives us free sirloin steaks, I’m not coming back.”
The crowd huddling around the manager agrees. “We’re still not coming back. You can shove your store.”
These guys are even grumpier old men. Okay, here’s the sex–Well at least inuendo.

Next week I see that poor little boy downtown, on the street by The Mission, smoking and looking pretty scraggly, along with half the other King Soopers checkers. I pull over (a bit brazen for an old fart, I admit, but I have my gun) and ask him, “How come your not checking, wise ass.”
“Oh, Grandpa Moses. You’re the one got us all fired. No health insurance. Got a few dollars?”
Guess he learned a lesson. Don’t mess with us wise old coons.

Choice #1=direct armed conflict: You pick it: Colombia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, etc. There are twelve major conflicts (they don’t like to call them wars) in the world right now. Major=1000 deaths a year. Okay, so that’s not so bad. Hiroshima was 150,000, give or take 10,000. That only took a month.

Choice #2=Embargo. Rememeber Iraq. Only problem, 300,000 children perished in those years.

Okay, so wars and embargoes cost a lot of lives.

There’s got to be a simple solution to handling an insult that prevents loss of lives and suffering. Any ideas?

Come on people. There are over 7 billion of us now. We need to learn to live together. So give me some suggestions. Please. 



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Adios Amigo

Adios amigo

Peter Gallagher died on 4/23.

He was my stepfather, a friend really. What can you say about a friend who can no longer listen with wise ears, can no longer edit my writing with expert care, can no longer comfort and love my mother, his dedication most dear?

I saw their last dance together. I’m so glad I did.

He wanted no fuss. Just a quiet goodbye. Let those who survive remember and carry on in goodness. He trusted that would happen. He spread his goodness a long time:

88 years.

There were those saved by his service translating Chinese for the OSS in WWII. Who knows exactly how many, or what he did. He would never say. Secrets until the end. The only thing I knew was he hated war. Imagine that.

Many legal clients were helped by him, both in Albuquerque before he retired some thirty years ago, and in Manzanillo, Mexico, where he lived and offered his services, usually for free.

His palpable legacy is a beautiful house in Manz, wonderful children, whom I have come to know and respect, and the lovely Luce, my mom, a woman without equal. That should be enough for any man.

There is the legacy, though, you can’t see, or touch, or hear. It is there, in the minds and hearts of those he knew. That legacy is more than the stars.

Thanks, Peter.

Goodbye, my friend.




War, Oil, and Family

(No one came up with an answer to my last blog. So I will keep trying.)


In my life, War and Oil are intertwined like a crown of thorns and thistles around Family. They make my love bleed. The biggest thorns are war, causing untold injuries the results of which I see and weep over, every damn day: Agent Orange causes diabetes, coronary heart disease, all of which blossom into strokes, heart attacks, stents, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., etc., etc. Every war breeds mental disabilities, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, leading to alcoholism, other addictions, cigarettes, depression, suicide . . . etc., etc., etc. There is no end.



The last decade of wars aches for more oil. Please, we must have it. Oh, and keep the oil companies in profit (Billions a quarter? No prob.). Who cares if us lowly peons have to pay more and more for gas? Grow that crown of thorns, war, by ensuring the thistles, oil companies, are as healthy as possible. Those two weeds are choking our priorities of life right off the planet. Soon, flowers, trees, wilderness will be merely another challenge to overcome in order to feed the weeds. Well, actually, they already are. Don’t look now but a fracking well may be moving in next door.


Then there is family, our loved ones, those who support us when we fight for our country, defend freedom. They support us and cry blood for years after we come back. If we come back. Are we defending freedom, or ensuring the continued survival of an overwhelming machine of war and support for oil. Can we tolerate $10 a gallon, or will civil war result in son fighting father? Sister killing brother? What is the price we are willing to pay for driving our cars to work? Mowing the golf course twice a week? Four-wheeling for fun over wilderness terrain?


We are the most powerful nation the world has ever seen and we act like adolescents in conservation, peaceful negotiations, and putting love before violence. Can we survive? That is why I wrote Dan’s War, to ask some of these questions, and get people to think. Every word, action, and evolution in Dan’s War is not only possible but becoming more probable every day. It can happen. Tomorrow. And the only thing left will be our humanity—if we haven’t destroyed that, too, with war. In Dan’s War humanity may save the hero. May. We must find a way to make humanity work, to rid beauty and peace and all those creations that make us laugh and cry, from the most destructive and ugly force in history: War.


As long as we are at war, ugly things happen, like killing children, massacring villages, virginity checks. Who knows, we might even drop a nuclear bomb or five that kills millions, “To Save More.” How can war not cause bad things, when war sucks out love and preaches kill thy enemy, and do it now, and move on; kill more. Can you find a way to stop it? Please.


I know you have hope. We have a whole generation of new fodder for war that we can save with that hope. Do it. Find a way to prevent another war.

Maybe even a cookie?



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