Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Life and Death of Mr. Henderson

Keith Henderson was my friend, and my mentor, and presented me with a life changing opportunity, and now he is dead.

Often times, you get more than a few shots at life.  However, many never realize when the opportunities knock, until they are gone.  Look at the developers of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple.  They all took chances and succeeded wildly.  However, one never hear about the individuals who failed, and most certainly you never hear about the individuals who never took the chance of a lifetime.  And though my small story is nothing of the aforementioned empires to the mass media of our world, it is an empire to me because someone took the opportunity to invite me to take a chance in life.

In 2005, Keith Henderson appeared.  Often times, like many it was at a very low point in my life.  I was a poor student, struggling to pass my studies in "Academia".  My self worth was at an all time low as I had decided to run ramshackle in full kamikaze style throughout the bureaucracy of my medical education.  That said, it made for rough paddling towards a career when I had created a name for myself as an outspoken young punk.

Keith turned it all around when he met me on my surgical rotation and said, "So, you want to learn about surgery...I don't expect anything from you, but here are a few questions you can look up tonight when you go home.  If you can give me the answers, then you can tag along.  If not, no loss for me, I really don't care."

I've always enjoyed a good challenge, and I have always liked someone doubting my ability.  The next day I found him and gave him the answers to his "Medical Questions of the Day".     He said, "Huh, so you want to learn, okay, well, no expectations here, this is what you make of it, don't waste my time, and I certainly wont waste yours".

Keith was by all descriptions bigger than life, and as we started to work together my silly cartoon mentality couldn't help but giggle at the entourage we appeared as when rounding on patients.  He was at least 6'6" and about 250lbs, and he looked like a big brown bear.  Standing side by side we were the mixed race equivalent to the movie poster from "Twins".  He was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I was Danny DeVito.  Somehow, we just clicked.  We were both hams in front of crowds and he let me be me.  We fed off of each other's energy and quit wits.  It was comical indeed to see us roll into a patient's room and start riffing off of each other, telling jokes all the while doing actual medical work.

He had the ability to put patients at ease with jokes, humility, and an ability to morph as a chameleon to tell the patient what they needed to hear in their own language while never masking the truth.  I remember one of the patients saying, "Look, it's Frick and Frack" when we walked in and started our "Who's On First Routine".  I ate it up, and I think he did too.

A few months later I ran into him and he presented me with the opportunity of a lifetime.   He said, "Hey, you got any more slots left in your elective rotations?  I'm about to become the Chief of the Neurosurgical service down in Washington, DC.  You should come down, if you like it, I'll hire you.  I know you are looking for a job, and you have expressed interest in everything(Smart students catch on and say they like all fields by the way).  But this field is YOU.  If you don't like it, you can move on".

After taking his advice and taking a chance to work in the complicated and intimidating world he spoke of he started teaching me how to read MRI and CT scans and said, "See, it's easy, it's just Neurosurgery".  We would see tough and challenging cases, tell families their family member was sick and going to die or perhaps never ever be the same person again.  But the ease in which he could convey these things imprinted on me.  Beyond words I just knew I was embarking on something special...blind faith I guess.

Six years later I now sit as the new Chief of the same service he invited me to work for.  As the comic tragedy of life would have it, he succumbed to brain cancer, experiencing at first hand the news he used to deliver so effortlessly to the patients he cared for.  And as I sit writing this at a loss, I cannot be all that sad as I am all the more enriched by what he presented to me, an opportunity of a lifetime.  As I have grown into a man, I am certain he existed at that moment as one of life's holy angels to change my life forever.  He was the pusher of the pendulum  to move forward beyond challenges and mistakes into new uncharted territory.

On the week he died, I shared my sadness with my dad.  And he said, "Time to move on, and take over doing what he did."  I feel like the runner of the next leg of life's race, taking the forward progress already made and now making it my own.  I will forever be in his debt, and will always remember the legacy he carried to believe in others, the power of life, the human spirit, and most importantly me. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Magic of Egg Drop Soup

While we are on the tangent of comfort food, let's give a shout out to Egg Drop Soup. Not sure how you make it, and I generally feel it's the healthiest American-Chinese food you can have from take out...if it's not healthy I don't give a shit to know that thank you.

Adding the extra crunchies for texture really doesn't add to the caloric value, and the salt helps bloat and later purge the impurities from your diet right? As a child, another staple for my wife was egg drop soup and pork fried rice when she was feeling sick. Being that both of us were feeling quite rough a few days ago, this hit the spot, salting us up like cured fatback, and bloating our bellies for early sweet dreams and restful recovery.

When I was sick I had cheetos, that was my staple. But I don't see anything wrong with a little Egg Drop Soup.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hot Dog Mac And Cheese, And A Partial Letter To My Unborn Demon Spawn

Mac and Cheese is the friend who is always there. She can be dressed up with truffles and seven cheeses, or she can just look fine in sweatpants and an over sized t-shirt by coming out of the box, and following the powdered cheese directions. The foreign concept to me however was adding hot dogs to the arsenal of comfort. My wife introduced me to this concept some months ago and wondered how I even turned out a right person in the world for never hearing of this marvelous mash up.

Understand it's good to go vegetarian, vegan, and organic, it's also essential to come correct and be a bad boy with nitrates, preservatives, powdered cheese, and enough salt to melt an icy sidewalk after a winter storm. What makes my brain piece so wonderfully comforted and sedated when I eat this warm, cheesy, salty, gooey snack I'm just not sure. But it's food porn on the highest level of the girl next door concept that just got hot overnight, but is sitting around in a sweatsuit with no underwear. Honest to goodness while you do it you feel so happy with the world being a perfect place. Post coital food consumption you drift off to sleep feeling warm and satisfied, briefly waking only to rip off some of the loudest farts that somehow accentuate how clever you were to combine these two lovely food groups. Meat in tube form and boxed macaroni, how clever, I get horny in a hungry way every time I think of it.

"How were you never introduced to this food group?" My wife asked, "I was practically raised on it." Indeed young unborn spawn of Matty J, I envision we will soon have a bowl together while watching baby Einstein or the Wiggles...let's just hope beer will still be around to provide comfort to the foreseeable pain of infant-toddler tv...maybe just maybe, we can sneak in a few episodes of kung fu.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Punks Backyard Grill

The nadir in recent posts has been mitigated by a lack of motivation. I exist in part to eat and review food. To cook and be merry as well as live the life you want to live. However, fine dining be damned, and good food be's tough to write in ten different ways, "It was so yummy, I was full, we drank good wine."

That is a non-sequitor segue way to the following review of "Punk's Backyard Grill" in Annapolis.

Nestled in between large market stores such as "Crate and Barrel" and the like, this place defies natural mall standards. It goes without saying I despise the mall, most of the employees, and most of the patrons. Cookie cutter America with unemployed young twenty-something patrons purposefully spending more money they don't have...I digress

Every time I tell someone about this gem I get the following sentiment, "I hate the mall, food courts suck, I don't want to have to walk through the mall to get there..."

The good news is that Punk's is only physically built on to the mall. No doors lead into the infectious retail splooge that is "The Mall". The better news, the owner is a beer nerd, brewer, and proprietor of the fresh, local, green movement. Better yet, the customers don't seem to be the same mouth breathing slack jawed yokels from the mall.

Food is made to order, and again, the beer list is extraordinarily good, and cheap. They even offer a happy hour most days placing some of the best beers in America in your hands for 3 dollars a pint. Live in the tri-state area and ever heard of premium craft brew for 3 dollars a pint? Me neither, at least not much. This winter, they somehow got their little hands on Dogfish 120 IPA...a whole keg...THAT is perhaps the pinnacle of IPA's. Hands down, this place serves the BEST craft brew menu in Annapolis. They even have beer dinners educating the consumer on pairing beer with food...hell, they even do cool cocktails and cocktail dinners.

The decor is refreshingly outdoorsy. Picture a cabana bar with palm trees and sky lights simulating the great outdoors. Are you sold yet? How about a well seasoned charred lamb burger with killer tzatziki sauce, or grilled smoked kielbasa on fresh pita? Don't trust me, check the menu, the pictures, the philosophy, the mission statement...I'm all in.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Art of Receiving

I'm a giver, was always taught to share, and when I'm down to my last favorite potato chip, I'll gladly give it away to my wife. It's the pleasure giving evokes when you really love something, and you give it it away because the happiness of that said party makes you happier.

Giving makes the world a better place and perhaps is quite the curse because once you start, it's vicious to pull back and take a rest. And when you are good at it, well, that snowball can become an avalanche.

Generally my wife and I always for others, host parties, or cook for each other. We find things simply taste better when we do's the curse of the self proficient and self important persona.

Enter last night as the most recent stint of getting spoiled as my wife and I sat at JP and Melly Mel's kitchen bar imbibing drink after drink, and we watched them cook us dinner. With each laborious luscious sip of a great Cotes du Rhone, the night slowed to a standstill where we were frozen in time while the busy whirring of kitchen appliances and chopping of mise en place progressed.

I kept thinking to myself with my wife connecting with me in step..."Boy, the food tastes different, and even sometimes better in a different way than when we cook. This sure is nice being cooking, no cleanup, and there is even a handsome man taking our empty glasses and filling them with a joyous liquid making me somehow forget my troubles as well as reservations and inhibations" (let's not forget Meg had craftily placed herself smack next to the decanter).

Although it is an art to give, and many ways a means to a way towards self recognition, self confidence, and is also an art to learn to receive. To stop and say, "Hell yeah, I'll drink your booze, make tons of wonderfully inappropriate comments, and bust out in song and boozy tearful hug to tell you how much I love you" the balancing yin to the yang of life. The proverbial salt to the pepper, or perhaps gin to the tonic.

As life is the semblance of balance between gluttony and restraint, it's the small things such as wonderful friends cooking you dinner that helps you get the total perfect picture...helping conform the thousand photo snapshots into a montage that emulates beauty.

The Enjoyment of a Simple Cigar

Overworked, a little hung over, over-tired, and under exercised I begin this span in an emotional mood. As a recovering dweller on all things negative I constantly avoid dwelling on sad things. Simply put, I'm a weepy little chimp. Before I met my wife, I would fucking cry and mope about everything. She diagnosed it as poor coping skills and I agree. So it's funny that I'm sitting here getting a little wistful and thinking about my Grandfather Gunnar.

It all started with being a little bored, and then I started looking at his old pictures, read my blog about his passing and shed a tear. But the moment didn't really carry on like it used to. Instead, I started thinking about the cigars he smoked, and how it's a terrible vice, but something splendid all in the same puff.

Grandpa loved his cigars. It was his icon, his brand. Wherever Gunnar was, there was at least remnants of an old stub hidden in the bushes waiting for one last puff. My dad joked that he would be an expert marijuana smoker if he ever partook because that guy could smoke that shit down to the last doubt.

What got me really on a tear was this story sent from a long lost cousin in Sweden:

"My name is Sanna Greneby,I happened to find this post on Google when i searched "Gunnar deDon". First of all, im sorry about your loss. I am, as you, sure that there is one more entertainer up in heaven and that he is on à better place. My grandmother is Gunborg Bodin, born Gunborg deDon, sister to Gunnar. Even though he is my mothers (Monna) uncle, i grew up knowing him as "farbror Gunnar" (uncle Gunnar). I and My family went to Florida when I was 9 years old and he took us around everywhere and i do remember how fond he was of his cigars. In Disney world we went to one of the attractions and he hid his cigar (the 1/4 that was left of it) in a bush. When we had continued walking for 30 minutes after he suddenly realized he forgot his cigar in the bush and made us all wait for nearly an hour because he had to run back to the bush and collect it! He wouldn't let it go to waste. My father filmed a lot during this holiday and I have a clip when he is sitting by the pool telling stories (in Swedish) and playing the guitar. I can organize some clips to send to you if you would like? He was a great man who I am sure made a great impression on everyone he met."

As grandpa got older and his memory got a little more shoddy, placing cigars in random places became a humorous and laborious game...the funny thing is, my cousin writes this when my grandfather was's funny how shit doesn't change.

The absolute convoluted point to this whole "Delve into all things Matty" is this. A beautiful cigar is the perfect pause to a busy day. It causes reflection, and the nicotine pulses on your synapses making them fire, and helping you sort shit out. For Grandpa, as a one manned band, the cigar was his confidant that never did him wrong. He is who I channel every time I light up, knowing I'll probably die much younger from esophageal or throat cancer...heaven forbid. More painstakingly the point is this...

Having something, whether it be a vice, or something simple like a cup of tea, new recipe, crowd to cook for, or a blank canvas for painting gives pause and is perhaps what we all need in order to sort out our busy complicated lives. Perhaps then is when your coping skills get the boost they need and you grow up before your very own eyes.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Meat is Murder, Tasty Muthereffin Murder...

The benefit to living in any place for a set amount of time is getting to know the small business owners. Alas, our love affair with Mike began. And we'll just call him "Mike the Butcher".

Plain and simply he is a butcher. But to us, he is a religious icon who has more palpable influence on me than Jesus. And if Jesus were here today, I would probably meet him at "My Butcher and More" in order to pick up some well aged pork, sausage, foie gras, rendered duck fat, and beef marrow bones...all scrupulously picked and dry aged appropriately in the back room. I would then share my home-brew and pop a few bottles of Jesus's water to wine and discuss global marketing for his talents (We might later puff cigars and discuss inventing new iPhone apps...).

My digression is the result of multiple synapses humming and thinking about this local meat shop. It is the promised land people should fight over....forget Israel and Gaza....just go to Annapolis.

My selling point is simple. Many often rant that meat is murder, the cause for cancer, poverty, rashes, and whatever ailment du jour. And your point I will agree if you are talking about all that shit from Industrial Buildings where animals are simply blobs of meat much like the contestants on "Biggest Loser" animal depraved of actually being an animal is a sad and cancerous bane on our diet. To eat industry meat? I would happily go vegetarian. But to get your fat fingers on what God intended? Well, that's why Jesus and I would be hanging out. Forget the end of the world...maybe he's just returning cause he's hungry...

Digressing again...meat sweats...sweet sweet meat sweats. Check this place out...they have everything...and they even have meat butchering and prepping classes...