September, 2011 Archives

Sock It To ‘Em Tigers

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September 28th, 2011

Bill Freehan was my idol. When I was a kid, his posters and baseball cards, news clippings and photos were Scotch taped to my bedroom wall. I even remember having a dream about meeting the famous Detroit Tiger. It didn’t come true until years later when he was a coach for U-M and I was […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-0928_Bill_Freehan_baseball_cards.jpgBill Freehan was my idol. When I was a kid, his posters and baseball cards, news clippings and photos were Scotch taped to my bedroom wall. I even remember having a dream about meeting the famous Detroit Tiger. It didn’t come true until years later when he was a coach for U-M and I was an Ann Arbor News photographer.

I wanted to be just like Bill and grow up to become a Tigers catcher. That dream died early on though, when I realized I was actually afraid of the ball.

Freehan reportedly is suffering from Alzheimer’s these days. It’s too bad for many different reasons. Not the least of which is his former team’s current pennant and World Series run. Hopefully he can sit by the television and watch the games. There are many things to be gleaned from the beautiful sport, even if your recollection is failing.

The former catcher isn’t alone in his easy chair. Tiger fans here, where our economy is benched, have a great distraction this year. Whether we fans are dealing with unemployment or medical issues, (or both), watching and looking forward to game after game has given us joy.

Yes, it’s only a game and in the grand scheme it doesn’t really mean anything, but that doesn’t truly explain why so many of us argue about Brandon Inge or love Victor Martinez. Sure, Verlander and Cabrera are super stars, but so are many others on the team. Brilliant fielding by Austin Jackson, hysterical dances by Jose Valverde, career seasons by Avila and Peralta, the list goes on.

The distraction from the everyday and the thrill of watching peak athletic performances gives us a boost and something to do with our unexpected free time. Detroit needs teams like the Tigers, (and Lions and Red Wings and the Wolverines and Spartans). Now, perhaps more than any time since 1968 when our baseball team began to patch things up for the city from the horrendous summer the year before.

I’m sure my wife doesn’t get, exactly, why I spend so much of my time following our Tigers. But my brother and cousin do, as we text each other back and forth during critical games. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a guy thing, since I know many rabid female fans. It’s great fun to hear reports of my youngest, Taylor, talking to the boys at high school about who her favorite player is and the boys’ eyes widening at the thought of a cute girl meeting manager Jim Leyland a few years back.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcleyland.jpgTaylor Curtis meets Jim Leyland in Seattle in 2007. photo by Rodney CurtisThe playoffs start on Friday and hopefully our team will waltz all the way to the World Series. For many of us armchair Tigers who didn’t have the talent, or were scared of the baseball, this is an inspiring time. We can see vague representatives of ourselves out there on the diamond, making spectacular plays and putting the city in the WIN column.

The feeling is reciprocal. When the Tigers clinched their playoff berth, Leyland broke down on camera describing what the fans have meant to the team. He also realizes what the team means to the city.

Yes, putting our eggs, (and hopes and fears), in one basket is a bit childish, particularly when that basket is one interwoven with entertainment and money and a “boy’s game.” But it’s a lot of fun. We can wear our T-shirts or jerseys and feel like we’re part of something bigger. Two guys sporting old English Ds on their hats can nod at each other while walking into a bagel shop and that anonymous camaraderie means something.

And just like in 2006, when my Ukrainian-born/Israel-raised buddy wrote after Magglio Ordonez’s amazing home run, “Holy crap, even I’m a fan now,” the game at it’s best brings people together.

Detroit needs that. The world needs that. But let’s hope the stinkin’ Yankees don’t get there first!

(As a historical footnote, important to no one except me, in Freehan’s book Behind The Mask he says he never understood autographs. Shaking a hero’s hand was far more impressive, he wrote. When I was assigned to photograph him and introduced myself at an Ann Arbor practice, he went to shake my hand but pulled back instantly because his was covered in pine tar. I was so, so close! But at least I fulfilled a dream I had as a young boy. Even if we wasn’t buying me a Ball Park Frank at Tiger Stadium.)

This One’s On The House

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September 18th, 2011

photo/Rodney Curtis I wasn’t in the mood, a few weeks ago, to show a movie on the side of our house. I’ve done so a few times in the past, born from a crazy notion that bored into my brain while mowing our lawn. The last time we did the “drive-in” movie was moments before […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rchousemovie.jpgphoto/Rodney Curtis

I wasn’t in the mood, a few weeks ago, to show a movie on the side of our house. I’ve done so a few times in the past, born from a crazy notion that bored into my brain while mowing our lawn. The last time we did the “drive-in” movie was moments before I found out about my cancer. We were also shut down by the authorities, the buzzing mosquitoes which dive-bombed our ears and any exposed skin they could find.

But my daughters kept pushing me to “do the house movie thing,” so I agreed and told them to invite their friends. One thing I’ve cemented in my mind over this long and slow recovery is to do stuff that makes my family happy. I’m not talking about being a friend instead of a father, although I think that debate has the wrong parameters. I need to facilitate and be a strong advocate for my daughter’s growth. That sounds much better than being a pushover.

There are books and blogs about how a father should behave. I’m certain if I looked, there’d be advice on every side of every issue, whether the dad was coming off a layoff, a disease or both. But I have to go with my gut. Even if sometimes my gut is radically wrong and forcibly clouding my judgement while it digests the steroids and nine other daily drugs I’m on.

I make mistakes all the time, like when our daughter’s friends were over and wanted to be treated like family, so I made them help clean the house. It’s funny in retrospect, but I was a jerk about it at the time.

I also get it right sometimes, like showing Tangled on a vinyl-sided screen with popcorn and lots of friends.

They know I’m trying. I know they’re trying. Sometimes all the trying is trying.

It’ll only be a few more ticks of the teen clock until the daughters have moved on to college, careers and kids of their own. I need to remind myself to turn away from the computer and listen to the conversation. And most importantly, when a crazy, unusual request is tossed my way, I need to do my best and catch it.

That’s free advice. Just like the movie, it’s on the house.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rchousemovie2.jpgphoto/Rodney Curtis

These Are My People

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September 13th, 2011

Photo by Rodney Curtis/Creative Commons Imagine being in a room where everyone has had the same shared experience. Some had it decades ago, a few had it less than a year ago like you. Now imagine a whole conference — a symposium if you will — where room after room of people spoke your language, […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcmypeople2.jpgPhoto by Rodney Curtis/Creative Commons

Imagine being in a room where everyone has had the same shared experience. Some had it decades ago, a few had it less than a year ago like you. Now imagine a whole conference — a symposium if you will — where room after room of people spoke your language, knew what you’ve gone through and showed you, simply by being there, that normal life continues on.

That’s exactly what the past four days presented me with. Celebrating a Second Chance at Life sponsored by bmtinfonet.org threw so much positive energy my way, I didn’t even notice I was sleep deprived and running on Atlanta’s fuel, Coca-Cola. Meeting person after person who dealt with cancer then a bone marrow transplant was one of the best experiences I’ve had over the past year.

Whether it was the organizers of the event, some of whom were marrow recipients, or attendees like the young guy wearing a skull and crossbones bandana, or even the nutty evangelical who tried everything to make his doctors laugh, all of us dealt with the same exact thing. When you’ve been dangled over the abyss, it’s great to know others have hung out there too.

The scenes of intimacy, like the wife constantly scratching her husband’s GVHD ravaged back, reminded us that the true heroes in all of this weren’t us. They were the caregivers who sat bedside or took on single-parenting duties or cried alone, late at night. There was even a ceremony honoring our caregivers. I picked up a HERO bracelet for my wife.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcmypeople3.jpgPhoto by Rodney Curtis/Creative CommonsThroughout the seminar, I was known both as the official photographer and a survivor. At the end there were many tears during my slideshow and no, it wasn’t because I had done such a lousy job. Those accolades were wonderful, but the real benefit to me was my ability to pop into one conference room after another. While I was snapping photos and making sure to show every single presenter, I got caught up in their discussions and PowerPoints. I came away with tons of information about myself including why, Dear God, were my eyes all watery when I was supposedly suffering from Dry Eye?

There were statistics and facts and studies showing amazing longevity, including how one day soon my chances of getting cancer will be pretty much like everyone else’s. There was even some secretive, back-alley talk about new, incredible clinical trials that eliminated certain cancers altogether with just one pill or injection.

Early on, within the first few hours, I told someone, “these are my people.” I heard the phrase echoed another time during the day then at night, when a fellow leukemia survivor and transplantee was one of the featured singers, she told the crowd the same thing, “these are my people.” 

I’ve belonged to a lot of groups, associations and loose-knit organizations over the years. After the past weekend, I am honored and priviledged to be a part of this merry band. Yes, the membership dues were steep and the initiation rituals sucked, but I am guaranteed lifetime access to the fitness center. And that’s going to be a mighty long time.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcmypeople1.jpgPhoto by Rodney Curtis/Creative Commons

Got Marrow?

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September 3rd, 2011

When you can’t get a job because your profession has dried up and shriveled worse than Mel Gibson and besides, you’re still slowly recovering from a stupid disease, one of the best ways to keep your photo form fit is by volunteering. There’s a wonderful bone marrow symposium happening in Atlanta on September 10-11, and […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcgotmarrow.jpgWhen you can’t get a job because your profession has dried up and shriveled worse than Mel Gibson and besides, you’re still slowly recovering from a stupid disease, one of the best ways to keep your photo form fit is by volunteering.

There’s a wonderful bone marrow symposium happening in Atlanta on September 10-11, and the organizers are flying me down to document it. I think there’s a particular elegance to this assignment. Being a patient, I am intimately aware of what the attendees and presenters are dealing with. But more viscerally, working the event casts me in the role as a helper — something I’m much more comfortable being — as opposed to a receiver.

The organizer of the event, Susan Stewart, is herself a transplant survivor from way back. Not only does her existence make me happy, the fact that she went through all of this a long time ago adds hope and sustainability to my prognosis. We have been corresponding a lot about this event. In one of our earliest chats, she asked if I wanted to take a swing at designing the seminar T-shirt.

Since I had no experience with clothing design and wasn’t a graphic artist by training, of course I said yes. Unbelievably, everyone liked it. Wearing the shirt over the past few months has made me smile. I can’t wait to see a whole crowd of people with it on. It will be my own private flash mob, except no one will know it.

This event is also simply the best place for me to be over the weekend. Apart from being in the midst of doctors and nurses specifically trained in my malady, I have a caring benefactor in Stewart who wrote to me saying, “I looked at your blog and was reminded of how I felt at your stage of recovery. I did a lot of dumb stuff around then, (like swimming in a county lake where rain run-off from cow pastures made a lovely muck for pathogens), and basically pushing the envelope to prove to myself that I had beat the leukemia. Those stellar choices put me back in the hospital more than once, and could have been avoided if I had accepted the fact that I still had limitations and had to wait a while longer until I was ready to engage life without worrying about infections, etc.”

She continued with the sage advice by saying, “I got the sense that you now are at the point where you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I want to caution you to be careful, particularly with respect to your efforts for this symposium.”

Her note was very important and it impacted me greatly. It added such a compassionate caveat to my activities. I think, as we used to say in grade school, it takes one to know one. I want to fly free and unfettered through this recovery and prove to myself and the world that Rodney is beyond all that mucky business. But if my exuberance sends me swimming in pathogen-filled lakes, (metaphorically speaking), who am I really helping? Over the long run I have taken to looking at my recovery not as something I do for myself, but for my daughters and wife. It’s the way I’ve focused my inner strength. However, recently I’ve grabbed the attention for myself by saying. “I need this for me.”