Monday, July 8, 2013

My Pop, the Moxie Man: Extended Pop Update

Well, friends, I made it back to Finland safely today and I thought I’d take just a moment to reflect on one of the craziest trips I’ve ever taken. I’m not sure when or if the Moxie soda company is going to look for a new mascot or spokesperson, but after this trip I’d like to nominate my pop for the job. If ever a man had moxie (defined by Merriam-Webster as: 1. energy, pep 2. courage, determination 3. know-how ), it’s my pop. He proved it once again during the last two weeks and I will be forever grateful that I was able to fly back to the States and be a witness.

As many friends already know, pop took a bad fall on the morning of June 20th. As he was crawling back into bed after a morning bathroom run, he became very lightheaded and passed out, hitting his head on the night stand on the way down. Fortunately, my mom was home when it happened and called for help. An ambulance came and moments later pop was being rushed into the emergency surgery room to get a pacemaker installed. Doctor Merliss later told me that pop’s heart rate was all the way down to 15 and fading and that he and his team installed the pacemaker in record time— less than 5 minutes! I thanked him for saving pop’s life, or at least being one of the many people enabling his recovery, but wasn’t really sure how to say it. I think I said something like: Thank you so much! Go Science! Go Awesome Team of Doctors!

Even though the pacemaker began working immediately, pop’s lungs and kidneys had already failed as well. Pop was unconscious, uncomfortable and restless, and had to get intubated to keep him breathing. My family struggled with all of the immediate medical decisions needing to be made and in a word, the whole experience of trying to guess what pop would have wanted was horrific. It was at this point that I got an email from my brother informing me of pop’s condition. After a bit of schedule mixing (my MANY thanks to the Hi-Fly Rangers and the organizers of the Puistoblues Festival for understanding my last minute performance cancellation), money maneuvering, and considerable borrowing (you know who you are—THANK YOU!!!), I booked a flight home for the following day. A short while later I received another email from my brother confirming that it was a good decision to come home quickly.

I have little interest in reliving that 25-hour commute home but while I was sitting on those airplanes something incredible happened. When I arrived at Bryan-Lincoln General Hospital on Saturday morning I was greeted by pop. “Hey, son. It’s good to see you. Thanks for coming!” Sure he was weak, also confused about the previous days’ events, hooked up to a million machines (I don’t think he’d much appreciate me posting any photos of him during this time) but he was living! And thinking! And resting! During those first couple days the doctors had been incredibly frank about their expectations for pop, acknowledging that many times 86 year-olds don’t make it through these types of major events. At that point, we weren’t sure if he’d ever leave the hospital. By the end of the day, however, he was standing up and even taking his first steps since the fall!

While he was in the ICU, the outpouring of support for my pop was awesome. He got lots of cards and prayers and I appreciate all the friends who sent me emails and Facebook messages to check in on him. 

And I need to send an extra special thank you to Kate and Louise Betton, who even went so far as to make my favorite Rice Krispies treats and send them to me (and they were awesome as always!). You guys are the best! 

And while it is not always the best circumstances under which to come together, these scary hospital trips also serve to reunite the family. It was so great to support pop with the whole family including my mother, brother, sister-in-law, sister, brother-in-law, my aunt, my nieces and nephew, and even the newest member of the family: Greta the dog

Greta, my brother and sister-in-law’s new pup, was about nine weeks old when I arrived and it was a real joy to meet her for the first time. We played, we cuddled (dog therapy really works!!), and she seemed to take a real interest in Kenny Roberts’ first Starday LP when I played it for her.

Every day we went to the hospital to check on pop and every single day yielded further improvement. We talked about religion, politics, philosophy, music, medical treatment wishes, and whatever else came to our minds and only once did I nearly pass out and need to lie down (a huge improvement considering my previous history with needles, blood, and hospital visits). After just one week, pop was ready to leave the hospital and transition into a rehab facility so that he could gain enough strength to eventually get back to independent living. His turnaround was remarkable. He was getting stronger each day, with many thanks to the wonderful nursing staffs and his physical and occupational therapists, even graduating from a walker to his preferred method of transportation (walking with a cane) in a matter of days! His lungs were functioning better than ever. His heart came back too. The kidneys hadn’t fully kicked in yet, but fortunately there’s a dialysis center in Lincoln (a few actually), so he didn’t need to stay in the hospital just for that.  His nephrologist Dr. Govaerts later told us that he thinks there is a 98-99% chance that pop’s kidneys are going to start working again on their own, so that is very encouraging as well. Once in the rehab center, things began to feel more normal. We set up pop’s Wii in his room and he very quickly developed a smooth opposite-handed, seated bowling technique (no left-handed bowling with a freshly installed pacemaker) which made our evening bowling competitions quite enjoyable.

While at the rehab center with pop, I also got to play a little guitar.

This came about because an earlier trip to Best Buy for computer software quickly escalated into something else. As I was leaving the store I saw a table at the front filled with guitar effects pedals—all 50% off the lowest already discounted open-box price. I asked the nearest manager if he had a Boss Looper Station and he said he just sold it, but that if I wanted any other pedal in the store he’d make me a deal. I quickly discovered that the Best Buy chain was ridding themselves of their entire music departments and the Lincoln store was hoping to get rid of everything… and fast. 

This made for some great sales and possibly the first time I’ve ever walked into a major chain store, asked to speak with a manager, and began naming my own prices for things. If anyone lives in a town with a Best Buy that has a musical instrument section, I recommend that you go check it out ASAP! The sales were mind-blowing and I actually went back to the store four days in a row to buy more things. Pictured here is my haul from Day One. The Fender Pawn Shop ’51 is actually pretty sweet. Although I’ve never been a Fender man myself, I find this maple tele neck strapped to a strat body quite charming and real playable. Best of both worlds here… On Day Three I picked up the Boss ME-70 multi-effects pedal and that is my new favorite toy (watch out Helsinki metro commuters, I’ve finally got a looper!).

There were many other memorable events that took place during my short visit. There were some mighty creative games of H.O.R.S.E. played on my nieces and nephew’s home court; Swimming and water-baseball games in the backyard; a fun off-road bike ride around Holmes Lake with my nephew; seeing my mom, who had been experiencing some pain related to the immense amount of stress she was under, getting much healthier during my stay (Go Mom Go!!); 

visiting with my awesome and inspirational Aunt Karen, who has been kicking cancer’s butt and is doing great; picnicking with my brother and his family; I even got to take my nieces and nephew (along with their parents and my mother) to their first ever live rock’n’roll show: Junior Brown

My nephew has been getting more and more into the guitar and I was glad to see him diggin’ the fancy JB pickin’ up close. 

I also loved watching my nieces dancing and laughing with their parents to ‘My Wife Thinks You’re Dead.’ After Junior’s set the fam retreated homeward and I was treated to some mighty fine rockin’ courtesy of my former labelmate Dave Gonzalez (Stone River Boys on Cow Island Music) and his rockabilly supergroup the Paladins

I had a ball and met some mighty cool people in the process, including one of pop’s PT’s! The final group of the night was the Self-Righteous Brothers, which featured Benji from the Mezcal Brothers, who also played earlier in the day. This was all part of Zoo Bar’s 40th Anniversary 3-day celebration and if anybody is ever passing through Lincoln, NE, I can’t give any live music venue a higher recommendation.

Among the brightest highlights of the trip, however, came on the 4th of July—Independence Day. America’s Birthday. A day when Americans, particularly Nebraskans, spend crazy amounts of money to make pretty explosions in the sky and also damage their hearing. It’s also a day for BBQ and baseball. The local baseball team, the Lincoln Saltdogs of the Northern League, had a home game and fireworks display scheduled for the 4th and ever since I got to town we had been talking about wanting to take the whole family to the game. As pop’s recovery progressed, it seemed more and more plausible that he may even get to come to the game with us. On July 2nd we purchased tickets in the wheelchair accessible section of the ballpark, but by the 3rd pop was already moving around with just a cane. It was most certainly game on!

After a lovely morning spent tooling around town with mother (including a fourth and final Best Buy run), we busted pop out of the rehab facility around 4:00 and headed to my brother and sister-in-law’s place for a good ol’ fashioned backyard cookout with delicious Fairbury Hot Dogs (the official hot dog of the Nebraska Cornhuskers) and Moxie soda. 

The weather was perfect, the pool water was warm, and it was awesome to have the whole family together for the holiday.

From there we booked it over to Haymarket Park to catch the Saltdogs versus the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. While it wasn’t a victory for the home team, it was still an exciting game to watch and a gorgeous night out at one of the nicest ballparks around, overlooking the Cornhuskers football stadium, the Nebraska capital building, the new convention center, and even the active train yards just past center field. Mom and pop posed for a shot with Homer, the Saltdogs mascot, and a good time was had by all. 

The fireworks show after the game was equally awesome and on the drive home we saw about a million more impressive, independent fireworks shows.

It was exactly two weeks prior to this game that I got the email informing me of pop’s condition. The doctor’s had predicted that if he were to recover from this at all, it would take many months. Two weeks later we’re at a baseball game and living the good life. I know there is still a long road to go towards full recovery. He is still probably a few days away from returning home, and I know he’s not a big fan of dialysis, but his determination to get stronger and better every day is both encouraging and inspiring. He’s got a lot of energy left in the tank, a lot of life to live, a lot of projects to complete, and he’s taking all the proper steps to get better… According to Merriam-Webster, that man’s got moxie!

Speaking of Moxie, I love that soda. It’s got a unique taste, some folks may describe it as bitter or medicinal, but to me it's just real refreshing. It’s the oldest continuously produced soft drink in the U.S. and it’s the official state soft drink of Maine. Dr. Augustin Thompson, a Massachusetts physician, introduced the beverage in 1884, claiming that it cured paralysis, softening of the brain, and mental imbecility among other ills. When soda became the rage, they just changed the marketing approach from Moxie nerve food to Moxie elixir to Moxie soda. Genius! I used to drink it with several of my Moxie-obsessed friends (Ben and Julio, here's to y'all!) when I was living in Boston and I also played a few shows sponsored by Moxie with Rex Trailer. It’s like liquid memories for me, but I have never found it anywhere outside of New England. Cut to Lincoln, Nebraska 2013. Apparently the drink is now being produced and distributed nationally by the Orca Beverage Co. and that means Moxie in glass bottles nationwide! Yee-Haw!

I went to six or seven grocery stores and bought every bottle of Moxie I could find. Nobody else in my family had ever had it before and all seemed to enjoy it. Pop’s reaction was priceless. I wish there was a Moxie Faces Flickr or Buzzfeed page similar to the Malört Faces ones that I’ve seen, as this would surely make a worthy entry.

I remember a couple years ago there was quite the controversy in New England when Moxie ditched their famous Moxie Man logo and went with a more modern label design. Fans of the soda were outraged and Moxie has since gone back to using their vintage logo. But just in case they’re still thinking about changing up their image, and if they still want to keep a vintage look (hey, my pop was born in 1927—that’s pretty vintage for ya!), and if they’re looking for a man who has come to represent a fighting spirit, a love for life with energy and pep, with the determination to never give up, and the know-how to come back from near death (this is the fourth time the doctors have said that he probably won’t make it out of the hospital), then my pop is your guy. 

Think about it, Moxie, think about it!

For anyone wishing to write my pop a letter of encouragement, or if somebody from the Moxie company wants to use my pop’s likeness to market future products, I’m sure he’d love to hear from you! Just send me a private message and I’ll be happy to send you his address.

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