des moines, Faith and Values, Iowa, life, Media, Newspapers, obesity, People, Unemployment

The story of falling down: ‘It’s just a lot of shit right now, Bob’

The Rogers-Finney clan about 24 years ago, from the left, Bob Rogers, Joyce Rogers, and their second-hand son, Daniel Finney.

My right knee buckled and I fell off the back stoop to the driveway. Arthritis plagues my knees and lower back. Weather changes exacerbate the already maddening condition. My obesity makes it even worse.

The fall came at the end of a visit to the home of Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my first set of parents died.

Parents 2.0 are vaccinated. I’m half vaccinated, with the second shot to come early next month. We decided we’re comfortable visiting.

We ate lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad. Dessert was strawberry shortcake.

We chatted after dinner and we all took naps. Afternoon turned to early evening and I decided to go home. Mom 2.0 gave me a hug and plastic sack with a quart of homemade chili and a leftover piece of lasagna.

I stepped off the back step and something went wrong. I don’t know if I missed the step or seized up because of the pain in my right knee.

It felt as if I was falling down forever, caught between the moment I knew I was going to fall and the impact with the cold concrete driveway. The chili and lasagna took a flight. I landed on my left side.

My friend Megan Gogerty is trying to win a rolling skating contest by skating every day in 2021. She posts funny videos on Instagram about roller skating and reading “War and Peace.” Megan has diverse interests.

In a recent video, she mentioned that it’s better to fall on your side than your back or front. Maybe I had that in mind when I crashed, but I landed on my side. I don’t know if it hurt any less, but I walked away without any broken limbs. So, Megan, if you’re reading, thanks.

I rolled over on to my belly and then my right side. My right shoe had come off. This must be how turtles feel when they’re stuck on the back of their shell.

My parents came out to help me up. This embarrassed me. I’m 45 years old and weight more than a quarter ton. Here two 72-year-old people were trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

I rolled on to my belly, got one leg under me and kicked another one behind. My folks each wrapped their arms around arms.

They both have a pretty good grip, especially Dad 2.0. They raised me to my feet and quickly sat me down on the picnic table. Mom 2.0 collected the scattered leftovers sack and went inside to repackage them.

Dad 2.0 sat with me on the bench, his grip like a vice on my right arm.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

I knew he was asking about my physical condition. That’s not the question I answered.

The long virus year hurt us all in multiple ways. I lost my job. I lost two jobs. I was basically housebound for a year and my body suffered because of it. I was trying to get through school and become a teacher.

Some asshole stole my identity with algorithm and now I can’t get my unemployment check because the government leaders take six-figure salaries to make sure their offices make dealing with them as difficult as possible.

I’ve applied for rental assistance from the county. If things don’t work out soon with the unemployment office, I may be visiting food banks instead of Hy-Vee for groceries.

I could lash myself a billion times for every penny I wasted on comic books or treats instead of building up an emergency fund that everyone says you need and almost nobody does.

Nearly a year has passed since I was a practicing journalist. Most days I’m glad. I don’t want to go knocking on doors of the people who suffered tragedy to ask them to tell me their secrets anymore. I don’t want every paragraph I write to be subjected to the hideous system where my art is put on a spreadsheet and its value decided by how many people clicked on a goddamn link.

Yet, being away from the newsroom, as battered and empty as it was when they kicked me out, still burns. And that makes me angry.

I don’t want it to hurt that I got laid off by the one institution I ever wanted to work for, but it does. I know the place isn’t what it used to be, and it’s never been what I fantasized it would be.

But I always loved having my byline in the newspaper – even in the last few years, where I started to hate what our company had become.

They told us in college, way back in the early 1990s, that our generation would not work in one place. I was going to prove the exception and get a job at the local newspaper and worked there until I died.

It didn’t work out that way. The teachers were right. I was wrong. I don’t know why I’m still upset about it.

But in that moment, sitting on that bench with Dad 2.0 by my side, I felt more frightened and more vulnerable than I had at any point during these recent personal disasters.

I cried. Not much. But a tear in each eye that streaked down the cheek, hot on cool skin.

I know I have many blessings, Parents 2.0 chief among them. I have a handful of good friends who love me as I love them. I have shelter and TV and comic books and toys stacked floor to ceiling. I know I’m not the saddest case in the world. But that’s a fallacy of relative privation, the rhetorical concept that just because your problems aren’t the worst in the word does not mean they are not significant problems for you.

So, when my dad asked me if I was OK, I said: “It’s just a lot of shit, Bob.”

He still held my right arm. He looked at me through his bifocals and I could feel his sadness and worry.

“I know,” he said.

And we sat there together on the plank of the picnic bench, father and son, with the cold wind blowing across our faces on an early spring evening.

My mom joined us. I started to jabber about being a failure. She stopped me.

“It will work on,” my mom said. “It always has. It always will.”

I make a practice not to disagree with my mom. She’s right more than any of the teaches I ever had. They helped me stand and gathered my cane. They walked me out to my car and told me to be careful.

I thought again of my roller-skating friend, Megan. She recently wrote a lovely essay titled “A Reminder That This Is Impossible: And yet we’re doing it anyway.”

I find it best to avoid disagreements with Megan. She is right a lot, too.

My parents helped me to my feet. I leaned on my cane and waddled out to my car. I drove off to try and keep on keeping on in the age of impossible.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
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des moines, humor, obesity

The perils of cremation company advertising

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines Iowa:

I’m trying not to take it as an omen that the first piece of mail after the end of my job at the local TV station was from a cremation company.

The brochure boasts over 20,000 Iowans have placed their trust in the company. I’m not sure how to take that statistic. Read another way, it could say: We’ve burned the bodies of a lot of dead Iowans – and you could be next!

A cremation company is a tough thing for to advertise. If cremation were laundry detergent, they would add a different color to the powder and call it “new” and “improved.”

But it might be bad for a crematorium to boast about it’s “extra strength” 1,800-degree furnace.

I joke here, but I plan to be cremated. I would do a traditional funeral, but I’m an obese man and I don’t know six guys strong enough to carry me.

I want my ashes mixed with buckshot and I want my buddies to have a spread with buffalo wings, Tasty Tacos and steak fries with all the Diet Mountain Dew and Coors you can drink. Whatever’s left in the Folgers can can be mixed in with some fireworks, you know, for the kids.

I want my buddies to take turns blasting my mortal remains into the sky while having a good time and listening to some boot-stomping music with their shit-kickers on.

Please don’t think me maudlin. I am of sound mind and body, although body is a bit rickety.

I’m just amused to be getting the cremation solicitations. The brochure especially impressed me with its “48-state Travel Protection.” You drop dead in the lower 48, these fellows will come get you and burn your corpse.

That’s dedication.

Not only will they cremate your remains, they’ll do it with “Iowa Values.”

That’s good. I don’t want some sumbitch with Tennessee values disposing of my remains. For all we know those bastards use the metric system down there. By God, my husk will be burned by people high on ethanol fumes and high fructose corn syrup the way my ancestors always imagined.

I mentioned the cremation brochure was thoughtful. There’s a small disclaimer at the bottom of the page: If this advertisement has come to you at a time of illness or sorrow, please accept our apologies.

I see where the company is going with this, but I think they’re missing their mark. These fliers ought to be going out to the hospices and ICUs. This is where your potential customer base is.

I’m 45. I’ve got a few dents in the side and the engine burns oil, but I’m still on the road for another few thousand miles. Hell, I don’t have a job, but I’m not ready for the cremation negotiation.

But I’m going to fill out this note cart asking for “FREE” information about cremation if for no other reason that it’ll give me a reason to walk out to the mailbox each day looking for new angles on this cremation situation.

Daniel P. Finney is journalist in transition. What that really means is he needs a job.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, life, obesity

One day at Brown Shoe Fit Company

From the desk of Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney from Des Moines, Iowa.

I needed new shoes. I usually buy New Balance. Those are appropriate sneakers for middle-aged men. I’ve long outgrown shoes for style. My shoes are all function. And that’s what New Balance makes.

I usually buy my shoes at one of the sporting goods stores at the big mall in West Des Moines or one of the discount shops that sells last year’s model.

But I’ve got degenerative arthritis in my knees. There’s inflammation in my meniscus from a slip on the ice and tendinitis plagues my Achilles tendons.

My stimulus check arrived and I decided to treat myself to a higher-end model of New Balance to help me negotiate the treacherous winter.

The last time I went to the sporting goods store, the kid who helped me wasn’t even sure if they sold shoelaces. I’m not making that up. So I called Brown Shoe Fit Co. in West Des Moines.

I liked the name. I liked the idea that what they do there is sell shoes and shoe-related things like shoelaces and some socks. There wasn’t a hunting section or a sports jersey department.

There’s nothing wrong the big sporting goods company. I was just raised by people who “had a guy for that.” My parents had a plumber, an electrician, a baker and so on.

When I was a boy, there were scores of independent craftsmen who survived on the loyalty of people who were satisfied with the service and preferred dealing with the same person rather than obsessively seeking a bargain.

That reads more critical than I intend. Things change. I buy most things from Amazon except comic books. I try to support favorite businesses when I can.

This time I needed a shoe guy. I had a shoe guy when I was very young. His name was Pete. He worked at a shoe store in Park Fair Mall. I’m old enough to remember when Park Fair Mall was still a shopping hub on the northeast side.

Pete knew I only wanted one thing when I came into the store with my parents: Keds Tail Lights. They were navy blue canvas with a yellow diagonal stripe on the side and a bright red-orange circular reflector on the heel — just like the tail lights on a car.

I remember the day my parents took me to finalize the adoption. They made me dress up and wear a pair of saddle shoes. Chuck Offenburger would have been proud.

I was unimpressed. The saddle shoes were too tight and I kept complaining they hurt my feet. My parents urged me to keep quiet about my discomfort lest the Polk County judge think they were bad parents who failed to provide proper shoes.

I don’t remember how old I was, but I didn’t want to mess up the deal. I kept quiet. The judge signed off and my life as a Finney began in full.

To celebrate, we drove straight to Pete’s store and I got a new pair of Tail Lights. I don’t remember when I became too old to wear Tail Lights, but that must have been a sad day.

Since Pete, I haven’t had a regular shoe guy. I just went wherever. Sometimes I bought bargain. Sometimes I bought mid-range.

I now needed something higher end. I went to Brown Shoe Co. A man introduced himself just when I walked into the store. I worried this was going to be a hard sell.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

I told him I needed some better shoes and explained my ails. He motioned for me to come to the back of the store. The guy took off like a rabbit.

I’m an obese man living in a world designed for average sizes. I looked at the chairs, all of which had arms and narrow seats. I was in trouble, I thought. There’s no my big butt would fit in these chairs.

The salesman disappeared into the backroom. He came out with a wide bench in his arms. He set it down between a couple chairs and offered me the seat.

At that point, the guy could have sold me a pair of red stilettos with taps and bells on them. That is a smart salesman. He anticipated a customer’s need before the customer had to vocalize it. I would vote for this guy for president.

The thing is, it’s not unusual for an obese person to be noticed. But it’s exceptionally rare for an obese person to be treated humanely, with kindness and gentility. This guy did it unprompted.

He brought out several pair of more expensive New Balance, but he hit a home run on the first pair. He explained all the features to me. I tried to pay attention, but in the end, all I cared about was they were comfortable.

The salesman laced them up for me, put my old pair in a box and walked me up to the registers. I paid. I thanked him for bringing that bench out. It made my day.

I took his card. I immediately lost it, of course. But I have a new shoe guy. And I know where to find him next time.

Daniel P. Finney feels better about using a cane to walk by thinking of it as his “whacking stick.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, obesity, People

Meet the guardian angel of my parking lot

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney, Des Moines, Iowa.

The acrid smell of hot tires filled the air, accompanied by the futile roar of my car’s engine and the squeal.

Once-white snow sullied by exhaust fumes and tire rubber sprayed the vehicles behind me in my apartment parking lot.

I rocked my body in the driver’s seat and the car joined my rhythms, but still the rear wheels failed to climb the pile of plowed snow that entombed my car in the space.

Nine inches of snow fell on the city overnight. I knew this trouble well. I bought my car, a 2012 Dodge Charger, because it looks cool.

And it does.

But it handles poorly on snow and ice, especially in the apartment parking lot where the plows clear the main paths but leave small mountains of snow behind the occupied spaces.

I was stuck.

I would be late to my new job that I still struggled to learn. Panic bubbled in my gut.

Then a young woman knocked on my door. She offered to push while I pounded the gas.

She appeared fit, but even the strongest of CrossFit athletes would be at a disadvantage pushing my two-ton car with my girth in the driver’s side.

I suggested she drive while I push. I leaned into the car with my hip, one of the few times my obesity helped. We freed the car in about three hard tries.

I thanked her.

“No problem,” she said.

I went on to work.

The snow melted and refroze over the next few days. A light snow fell one Sunday morning as I made mincing steps to my car.

A voice behind me said, “Did we need more of this?”

I didn’t look up, but grumbled, “No, definitely not.”

I biffed it on a patch of ice hidden by the light snow cover and crashed hard on my right side.

I stayed down for a minute. I wanted to assess if I had broken anything. I had not.

The ground was very slippery in a wide swath around me.

I managed to twist myself around to sit on my butt, but efforts to stand might have reminded observers of a Donald Duck cartoon.

Except one onlooker. I heard a familiar voice in my ear. It was the person who had walked out ahead of me toward the parking lot.

“Are you all right?” she said.

I looked up. It was the same young woman who helped get my car out of the snow a few days before.

She’s apparently been appointed my guardian angel.

“I’ve been better,” I said.

She offered a hand. I worried that my girth would pull her down. I slid over to my car.

I took her hand and used the car to steady myself. I was upright. I thanked her again.

“No problem,” she said.

“I never asked your name,” I said.

“Maddie,” she said.

Maddie, it turns out, is Maddie Smith, a rower on the Drake University Women’s Crew team.

I don’t know how many people would stop to help an obese man who fell on the ice or to push someone out of snow.

But Maddie Smith was there for me twice.

She is from Des Moines and a graduate of Dowling Catholic High School. She is a credit to her faith, family and herself.

We talk a lot about how terrible everything is in the world. This story doesn’t make those things any less true.

But this story does contain one of the few proven remedies for things to improve: unselfish kindness.

Daniel P. Finney apologizes to neighbors for any tremors caused by his recent fall.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, obesity, People, TV

HOT SHEET: My first day in TV

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: I started my new job at the TV station Monday. Everyone who was present, which was only a few, was very pleasant. No handshakes. The occasional elbow bump was offered, but this is the era of maximum caution in the pandemic. The day was a blizzard of new vocabulary. The unknown acronyms of insider TV talk hit me like a rapid fire blasts from a Super Soaker. I have a lot to learn. More than once, i wondered if they hired the right guy. But apparently they did. By late afternoon, a specially ordered over-sized chair for my special over-sized body arrive, alleviating some of the pain felt in my arthritic knees and back. A full workday is new to the ol’ Paragraph Stacker, whose been sidelined since May 1. I was more tired than I expected to be and my consciousness did not last long during the Monday Night Football games. I’ve got to get my caffeine in a higher does this morning and remember to pack a lunch. I really lost steam without some midday protein. I’ll wrote more in a day or two, but just know I’m working and that’s an improvement.

If you had “Daniel P. Finney goest to work in TV” on your 2020 bingo card, you have to ask yourself what the hell kind of bingo are you playing anyway?

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Iowa, mental health, obesity, Uncategorized, Unemployment

Journey to health begins with a single splash

Photo by Milkovi via Unsplash

I jumped in the pool Saturday. The water felt cool, but a welcome cool against the humid late June air. I was there to work. My gym bag was filled with rehab tools: a pair of foam dumbbells, a pair of aquatic bells, a stretchy orange cord knotted in a loop and a yellow pool noodle.

My physical therapist gave me a laminated list of exercises from my last trip through aquatic rehab.

A case of pneumonia and months of layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic led to weight gain and weakness in my legs that make it difficult for me to walk more than a few hundred feet.

My doctor prescribed aquatic therapy, but the pandemic closed pools both for therapeutic and recreational use, including the one in my apartment complex.

The pools reopened, but between the time my doctor prescribed the therapy and the time the virus protocols allowed pools to open, my employer cut my job and I lost my insurance.

I bought insurance off the healthcare exchange, a part of the Affordable Care Act, which provides insurance to the poor and unemployed discounted through tax credits.

My plan didn’t cover aquatic therapy at the provider I used in the past. I could have used a different provider, but I only have unemployment to pay high deductibles and expensive copays.

So, rehab became a do-it-yourself job. Saturday was the first lap.

The first disappointment came when I pulled on my trunks. They were tight, much tighter than last year. This was to be expected, but to feel it is a tactile revelation of how badly I’ve deteriorated.

The second disappointment was how much range of movement I’d lost.

One of the exercises requires me to lift and lower my leg by pressing a pool noodle to the floor of the pool.

The biggest stress of that routine was getting the pool noodle under my foot. It took so long that I almost gave up.

The rest of the exercises went OK. I went slow. I did not want to injure myself. I went through a period of painful heel tendinitis after more vigorous pool workouts last year. I could barely walk. I don’t want to lose any more mobility.

I finished the workout. As I started to climb out of the pool, my left calf and shin started to cramp. I got back into the pool and let them spasm for a few minutes. Whatever hurt in water was going to be worse on land at full gravity.

The trouble passed and I got out of the pool just as a party started to gather. Someone was celebrating their 24th birthday.

The people who arrived were young and beautiful. Fit men with cut muscles in their arms and chests, and fit women in bikinis.

I felt like Quasimodo. I skulked back to my apartment to take a shower and pain relief medication.

I know I should celebrate the beginning of the effort to get healthy.

But I don’t.

My friend Lewis pointed out the other day: “Forty-five is different than 40.”

And it is.

My patience is thinner.

My obesity is fatter.

My disgust of myself and my failings higher.

My confidence is lower.

I would not describe myself as hopeless, but deeply discouraged.

What I’m trying to do for my health happens at the same time I’m in the middle of a seemingly futile search for a job and trying to launch a little business.

I like to leave readers with hope whenever I can. I am not a Pollyanna. Not all stories have happy endings and I won’t force one.

But this story is not about an ending.

It’s about a beginning, albeit to a sequel.

And when I close this elegant laptop, I plan to squeeze my fat butt into those trunks and go out to the pool and try again.

That’s the hope.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Iowa, mental health, obesity, People

How a scared transfer student from Winterset ended up in the East High Alumni Hall of Fame

My phone rang on my way back from the doctor in early March. It was the daughter of one of the vice principals I had while a student at East High School in Des Moines.

She cheerfully told me I had been selected to the East High School Alumni Hall of Fame. Somehow the car remained on the road.

It reminded me of a joke I used to tell at reunions before I stopped going. I was voted “Mr. Congeniality” by the Class of 1993. I always wondered if my classmates had a profound sense of irony or they just didn’t know what the word meant.

See? I can be a real jerk. I try not to be, but it happens. What business do I have in the East High Alumni Hall of Fame? That’s a real honor. Eastsiders take that stuff seriously.

The alumni association and the thousands of dollars they give each year to help East kids go on to college is the true pride of the east side.

Putting me into their hall of fame must be an error. I could think of a half dozen people more deserving than me.

I’m just a simple paragraph stacker trying to make his way in the digital world. What’s more, I’ve made more mistakes in my life than I care to admit to.

I’m an anxiety-riddled, depression-prone morbidly obese straight white guy who still reads comic books and collects Funko Pop! figures.

What have I ever done?

A woman from the Class of 1948 nominated me. I met her 28 years ago when I interviewed for an alumni scholarship. She apparently saw something in me that I don’t.

That’s sort of my East High story. Parents 1.0 died by the time I was 14. I ended up at East after leaving Winterset under unhappy circumstances.

The reason I landed there was a couple members of the Class of 1967 decided to remake their lives at ages 41 and invite an orphaned teenager into their home in the spring of 1991.

They became Parents 2.0 and they provided the stable home I’d never really had.

I had given up on family by the time I met them. I was prepared to go back into the foster care system. I didn’t care anymore and I wasn’t going to love anyone or let anyone love me.

Parents 2.0 met my every aggressive rejection with an unrelenting onslaught of love. And so we learned to love each other and I became a better person.

There were East alums Ric Powell and the late Bill Carlson, then the school’s baseball and football coaches, along with East basketball coach Chuck Sutherland, who took mercy on my uncoordinated, slow-footed soul and let me tape knees and ankles for the football and basketball teams and keep the scorebook for the baseball team.

I could not help these men win games, but they still saw value in having me around. It fostered a love of sports and sports writing.

Ed Kelly, in first or second year as advisor, let my writing loose on the pages of the Scroll. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be a master of something and I got a bunch of those reps writing for the East High Scroll.

I was no photographer, but I learned a lot about perseverance and dedication from the late John Lethcoe, whose rare blood disease made climbing the steps to his classroom multiple times a day a painful chore.

Yet John covered more ground than most teachers in a day, setting up group shots for the yearbook with his famed “One, two — CLICK” shutter press.

I never would have survived to a third day at East had it not been for my classmate and future friend, Tyler Teske.

I transferred in from Winterset, pop. 4,500. There were about 1,800 kids at East when I attended. The office gave me a schedule card that told me where my classes were and when.

They dropped me off in speech class. There was a sub. She didn’t know what to do with me, so she just told me to sit in the back.

The bell rang. I stood in hallway as chaos erupted and the crush of humanity clattered through the basement.

My next class was Algebra II in room B12. That could have been on the moon for all I knew. I felt overwhelmed, lost and very alone. I was going to cry.

Tyler, tall and gangly with big glasses and a friendly face, said to me, “You look like you could use a friend.”

He took my schedule card, showed me to my next class and met me after that class to show me the rest. He lived a few blocks away from Parents 2.0.

Soon we were riding the bus — and later driving in his parents’ Camry — to school everyday. We played basketball after school and talked about the things teenage boys talk about late into the night.

The woman who interviewed me for an alumni scholarship all those years ago helped me receive the Tom Luthens Memorial Scholarship, named after proud East alum and longtime Des Moines school board member Sue Luthens’ late son.

That money helped me attend Drake University where I learned my craft. My first summer job was writing high school baseball and softball game stories for the Register’s sports section. The first doubleheader I was assigned was Hoover at East.

I came into the Register newsroom one day to learn the computer system. I asked a copy editor — one I would later learn was one of the grumpiest men to ever live — where I could sit. He didn’t answer.

But an East alum, Randy Peterson did. Pete said, “Hey kid, he’s an asshole. Sit wherever you want.” And I’ve been stacking paragraphs ever since.

So they’re inducting me to the East High School Alumni Hall of Fame. But that’s not really true. They’re inducting all the people who helped make it possible for me to be there.

It was the teachers and coaches and everyday people of East who embraced the motto “For the Service of Humanity.” They made me better. I can’t possibly ever see myself as worthy of this honor.

But I’ll accept it on their behalf.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

mental health, obesity, People, sports, Unemployment

591: Obesity and the damage done

Photo by twinsfisch via Unspash

My friend invited me to a high school baseball game down in Winterset on Monday. The thought of it appealed to me: my favorite game played in the sun at my almost-alma mater by my buddy’s kid, whom I’ve watched grow up.

I agreed. Then I withdrew.

I sent a sappy text through tears in the early morning Monday. I wanted to go, but I was afraid.

I was afraid the walk from the car to the stands would be too much for me. I was afraid if I fell, there would be no one strong enough to help me up. I was afraid that I would bend or break the chair I sat on.

I worry about these things all of the time.

This is the curse of obesity.

And I am that: morbidly obese.

The word “morbidly” is not tacked on for flair. It’s a medical diagnosis that means being as obese as I am shortens my life expectancy.

So here it is, the big number that everyone wants to hear and recoils in horror when I reveal it.

I weigh 591 pounds.

That’s a cheeseburger and fries away from 600. That’s 91 pounds beyond a quarter ton.

Now come the judgements and the advice delivered as a sneer.

Eat less, move more.

Maybe put down the fork.

Exercise.

Show some will power.

And so on.

Longtime readers will note that I once, somewhat famously, went on a very public campaign to lose weight starting in March 2015. That campaign started when I was 39 and weighed 563 pounds.

I wrote about this effort to get healthier in a blog called “Making Weight” for my previous employer. The work was popular for a while and it helped me get healthier.

I used a combination of psychotherapy, diet, exercise and an unusual treatment for depression.

I lost 144 pounds between March 2015 to January 2017. I was 41 years old and weighed 424 pounds. I was still morbidly obese, but the weight training made me physically stronger than I ever had been in my life.

My goal was always to get back under 300 pounds.

But something went wrong in 2017.

My gym time waned. My eating habits declined.

I struggled through a bout of major depression.

Major depression is poorly named, but I don’t know what simple words can describe the mood disorder.

There are few easy, meaningful ways to say I went through a period where opening my eyes to face the day was almost physically painful, a time where I dreaded every single interaction with other human beings yet never needed my friends and loved ones more and a time I generally felt the gift of life was wasted on me.

Another painful experience befell me in November 2017. I choose not to reveal it in a public blog post at this time. Maybe someday I will talk about it, but not today.

The events nearly crippled me and sent me back to my psychiatrist for another round of transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

That’s a treatment where clinicians beam magnetic pulses into the brain in an effort to stimulate the naturally occurring chemicals that regulate mood in the brain such as serotonin.

The effectiveness of TMS is debated, but I have found it exceptionally helpful each time I used it.

The mental health care gave me another excuse to take time off the gym and all through 2017 and 2018, my weight climbed.

I slipped and fell on icy sidewalks on a cold January night in early 2018. I fell again trying to get to my feet. I later learned that I pushed in a pair of my ribs near the bottom of my ribcage.

My pain sidelined me. I could barely walk. Aquatic physical therapy got me back on my feet. It took almost three months. I started back to the gym in the fall, but attendance was irregular.

Another personal event occurred in early 2019. Again, I choose not to be public about it, but I was unsettled and struggled with more anger and depression.

I started this year with some optimism. I messaged my trainer about getting back to the gym.

But I developed pneumonia in mid-February. It took almost two weeks from which to recover.

I started to feel better just as the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. I couldn’t go to the gym if I wanted to.

Now things are opening up, but my walk is slow and painful. The months of sedentary life coupled with the anxiety and depression left my body in terrible physical condition.

I ate poorly, heavy into carbs and sugars. I ate to feel good instead of for sustenance.

I lost my job in May. I try to get up each day between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. I hunker over the computer and apply for jobs.

The few responses I receive are rejections.

There aren’t many jobs posted anyway. The pandemic has wrecked employment and companies often want young talent that works cheaply rather than middle-aged workers who bring established skills but cost more.

I feel useless. I feel like I wasted 27 years of my life in a trade that’s burning down and am left with no marketable skills. I know that isn’t wholly true, but I struggle with how to communicate with employers that being able to write a story on practically any topic in a few hours is valuable.

The economy is strengthening, they say. And people have supported this blog, but it’s not enough to make the bills each month. I look at the calendar and I don’t know what I’m going to do after July. It all seems so damn hopeless.

My close friends encourage me to pray. Others encourage patience. I love them. Both ideas are good.

But I look at the calendar. Severance runs out soon and the extra payments to unemployment granted because of coronavirus ends in July.

There’s talk of a new stimulus package. There’s talk of extensions. But nothing seems to happen. Congress and the president are busy grandstanding in advance of the election, not helping people like me and others who have it worse.

But every news story seems to trumpet economic recovery. Unemployment claims are down, they say. America is reopening.

The doctors and scientists urge extreme caution, but many people are openly ignoring the pandemic.

They’re playing high school baseball and softball. The NBA is going to start soon.

Everything is wonderful.

Except in my house, where I have no job and I haven’t been able to get into aquatic therapy for months because of the pandemic.

Yesterday, the provider I use for aquatic therapy called. At last, they could take me as a patient now that restrictions had been lifted.

But I couldn’t go. I lost my job in May. The insurance I had at my previous employer covered aquatic therapy. The insurance I bought off the exchange does not pay for therapy, at least at the provider I’ve used in the past.

Damn.

I know that I am not alone. I know tens of millions of Americans are out of work. And more than that are obese.

I feel empty. I feel worthless. I feel disgusting. I feel unlovable.

Bless my friends, who remind me daily that my life has meaning.

It sure doesn’t feel that way, but I have good, smart people as my friends. It would be arrogant and disrespectful to assume they’re all wrong and I’m right.

Still, I’m down. I’m not all the way down. I’m not depressed. I’m right at the edge of depressed. I can look over the edge and see the hole I’m trying so hard not to fall into.

And I haven’t. I’ve got a great therapist. And the work we’ve done together over the years helps me monitor and control my tendency to dive deep into that abyss.

Still, there is a very outward side of my depression: 591.

I’m morbidly obese. Most people believe obesity is caused by excellent fork-to-mouth coordination. That’s partially true.

But all the research shows that obesity is related to a complex matrix of problems that included mental health and especially adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

I’ve had loads of ACEs and let me assure this is not a great poker hand. My mother was an addict with erratic behavior. I don’t want to detail a poor, dead woman’s sins in these paragraphs. I will say only this: Things weren’t always fun in my house when I was a boy and it deeply affected the way I think, act and move.

Mostly, I am afraid.

Holy higher power of choice, I am afraid. All the time. I am afraid I’m unlovable. I am afraid I’m unworthy of everything — friendship, kindness, love, dignity, respect or anything.

I don’t understand it when someone is kind to me. Don’t they know how rotten I truly am? I am a bad little boy. Well, I’m a bad big man.

Can’t they see how gross I am?

They can’t. Because they love me. And that confuses me. Because most of the time, all I’ve ever done is hate me.

I know this thinking is false.

I intellectually understand that I am a human being, a child of God, worthy of love, dignity and respect.

But emotionally, too much of the time, I feel like the dog dung on the bottom of somebody’s shoe.

Therein are the poles of my self-image. Most of my problems are trying to resolve the gap between intellectual understanding and emotional reaction.

This effort is ridiculously exhausting. It’s harder and heavier than 591.

So about 591. What’s to be done? Do I just wait for the stroke or heart attack?

Sometimes, I’ll be honest, the answer in my head is, yes. If Raygun were to make a t-shirt about me, I think it would read: “Too fat to live, too lazy to die.”

I fight that thought. I want to live. I want to sit in the sun and watch my buddy’s kids play ball. I want to hang out in old age with my friends and drink sangrias by the pool. I want to keep writing, because that’s the only thing I ever felt good about in my life, even when I keep getting laid off or fired from those jobs.

I know getting healthier will be a long, arduous journey. And I know it will be all the more difficult because I am six years older than when I started this stuff the first time.

But so what?

I choose to live.

They filled the pool at my apartment complex. It opens next Friday. I’ve got a sheet with pool exercises to do and tools to do them with.

Here’s to the first splash on a long swim to recovery.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

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