Friday, May 26, 2006

“My name is Jeff and I’m a coffaholic.”

As a young adult, I began living two completely different lives. Look at me now and you’ll see a spiritual, fun-loving man. My life is full and my career is fine. But my life wasn’t always this way, though. I used to drink so much I could not pass out. “My name is Jeff and I’m a coffaholic.”

My coffaholism began in my mid 20’s because of a “friend.” James was a coffaholic.

James was always around, and he was usually drinking coffee. Although he never poured it down my throat, his never-ending barrage of coffee words terrified me. He was always wide-eyed and bushy tailed in the morning and would stand over the sink looking so content with a mug in his hand. That scene will forever be etched in my mind.

As a minister I always felt different from the rest of the world, in part because of my calling. I didn’t want to be in the spotlight. I wanted to be invisible, but I wanted love and attention at the same time. I felt confused, alone, and lost.

When I moved to New England, I started to sneak my friend’s coffee. Being buzzed gave me some relief from the demons in my head. A month later I had my first full cup and with it, I found another way to escape reality.

Even though I knew what I was doing was dangerous, I quickly became a daily coffee drinker.

Later on my friend, James, gave me my own coffee maker for my birthday. I made coffee with abandon. Irish cream, mocha mint and French roast!

For a while, I had a blast. I became popular, and was invited to Pepperdine. I was the designated coffee drinker at Preacher’s Meetings; a title I held proudly.

The problem was that I could never predict what would happen after I took my first drink. I never could recall where the last hour went. I would hear the ugly details from my friends, which usually involved some kind of hyper-activity.

My taste for coffee grew more extravagant - first it was just coffee with cream, then lattes, vanilla lattes, cappuccino, then mochas – the wonderful mochas – and then eventually - the hard stuff, espresso or “X” by its street name. I was and am a coffaholic.

A few months back the old coffee maker that James gave me finally bit the dust after almost 20 years. I thought to myself – now is my chance to break free!

But before the day was over another “friend” had replaced it with a real coffeemaker from Starbucks. It seems that I will forever be enslaved to the black gold.

I will be out of pocket for a couple of weeks - check back the end of June...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Growing up Poor

While my growing up had it’s tough times - because of the impact of alcoholism on my family – in lots of ways it was pretty incredible.

We grew up relatively poor. There were lots of times when we barely got by financially. On the farm we were always in debt because my father was such a poor manager. When my parents divorced we were always on the edge because my mother was supporting us on her salary alone.

This is not going to be one of those – “We were poor, but we were happy” stories.

But I remember the opportunities of my youth with a great deal of fondness. I fished, rode horses and raised calves, drove a team, baled hay, built tiny twig rafts for my army men and floated them in the creek for hours on end. I ate paw paws, scrapple, frog legs, and fresh beef and pork.

Before it was illegal I rode everywhere in the back of an open pickup truck all summer long. I went ‘coon and fox hunting – some of the first times I remember staying up past midnight were around a campfire listening to the dogs.

When I moved into town I joined the Boy Scouts and taught my peers the skills that I had already utilized for years like tying knots, building fires and following tracks. I loved to canoe and taught my friends the j-stroke.

The artist side of me took off in school and I acted in school plays and sang tenor, baritone and then finally bass as my voice changed. I was President of my high school Forensic (Speech) Society and won some awards for extemporaneous speaking.

I write this to point out that while we were poor, being poor was never allowed to be an excuse for not trying new experiences, working hard at school or having fun. Those same attributes that served me well growing up have served me well as an adult.

But I was an odd duck. I was able to overcome my family’s alcoholism and economic status and succeed by the standards that the world judges success. But there are millions of kids that are not as fortunate as I was. They are the victims of their circumstances and it is not their fault. They are the real poor.

From Larry James’ blog:

Among 33 industrialized nations examined in a new report, the United States tied for next to last with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies born. Only Latvia had higher mortality figures, with 6 deaths per 1,000 births.

Industrialized nations with a lower infant mortality rate include Japan, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Australia, Canada, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania and the United Kingdom, to name just a few of those ahead of the U. S.

While U. S. infant mortality rate for all races is 5 deaths per 1,000 births, for non-Hispanic blacks, the rate is 9.3 deaths per 1,000, another example of a disparity in health and wellness outcomes when factored by race.

The U. S. has the benefit of more neonatologists and operates more neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but presents a higher mortality rate among is newborns than any of these nations.

Researchers noted that the United States is more racially diverse and has a greater degree of economic disparity than many other developed countries, making it more challenging to provide culturally appropriate health care for all of its citizens.

Apparently, factors defined by race and economic disparity (read "poverty" here) mean more babies are dying. Pre-natal care, community strength, social capital and low birth weights all factor into this disturbing national outcome.

For the complete report that focuses most of its attention on the severe crisis in developing nations, go to:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Elmer and Orville

My grandfather, Orville Pierpont, grew up in central Ohio long before every family owned an automobile. Once a week or so the family would hitch-up a wagon and drive it to town for supplies. During the winter on one of those trips to town the ground was covered with snow and so they loaded the whole family in the sleigh.

As usual, they followed the river for about a mile and crossed at the bridge. On the way back home the river was frozen-over and so they took the short route over the ice.

It was a serious mistake. Crossing the river the ice caved in. My great grandmother Lilley was thrown from the sleigh. She was holding my grandfather, baby Orville, and he fell from her arms into the fast-running water.

My grandfather’s two older brothers were able to make their way safely to the river bank. Their parents stayed in the icy water trying desperately to save baby Orville. He was in the water along with all the contents of the sleigh.

What happened next will live in the family annals for a long time to come. Orville, the baby of the family, was rescued alive from the water.

The part of the story that my grandfather loved to tell was what happened there on the bank of the river while he was bobbing around in the icy water. His older brother Elmer’s concern was that the groceries were thrown into the water and they were being carried downstream.

Elmer, seeing the magnitude of the situation began calling out instructions from the river bank. His family remembered his exact words. He shouted, “Save the Post Toasties! Hey, somebody save the Post Toasties!

Elmer Darvin Pierpont died in December of 1964 when I was 3 years old and this was all I was ever told of him.

As for my grandfather, he lived to marry Audrey Ables and raise four kids, including my father. He started out life as an ice delivery man until he fell and hurt his back. He went on to become an automobile mechanic. If you needed a man to fix your car you took it to Orville Pierpont’s garage in Utica, Ohio. He died in 1989.

Because of some unfortunate family strife I went 14 years without seeing my grandfather. In 1986 I walked into his living room after having not seen him since I was eleven and he embraced me like no time had passed at all.

Orville was a good man whose life was exceeedingly more valuable than a box of cereal. No matter what his brother Elmer might have thought at the time!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Three out of five mornings a week I stop at a diner called “Sammy’s’ and have breakfast.

I have been doing it for two years and so I have become a fixture in the place like the rest of the early morning patrons. I have “my” stool. Sammy has my water glass, silverware and coffee waiting for me most mornings.

The coffee is the best and Wednesday’s is corned beef hash day. On “Hash Wednesday” it’s not the canned, slimy stuff but real, homemade hash with poached eggs. Lots of folks get oatmeal and raisin toast every day.

There is a sense that this scene could be repeated in most small town diners anywhere – but we have a real sense of community and camaraderie right here in the big city of Cleveland.

People come in, everyone says, “Hello.” We talk about how the Cavs or the Indians played the night before. We work the crossword puzzle together as a group. Occasionally, if Tom Jones or Neil Diamond is coming to town, we break out into song and will sing until Sammy feels as if he should be charging a $3 breakfast cover charge for the music.

We celebrate everyone’s birthday with cake and cards. We laugh, cry and help each other when the need is there. We miss folks when they are away on vacation or business travel.

It really is a place where everybody knows your name to borrow a line from the Cheers theme. There are a few older single people that dine there every morning and they know that if they miss a day that the crowd at Sammy’s will miss them – even if no one else will. It is amazing the natural and undeniable sense of responsibility towards each other that we feel.

It is a great way to start your day – with friends.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

“Feelin' all of 45...”

This is the week – on Friday I will turn 45 years old and I am feeling every day of it right now. Two weeks ago my body passed a kidney stone - my first and hopefully my last. This morning I strained a muscle in my shoulder just shaving! It is as sore as can be and I don’t know why except that I am out of shape.

Earlier this spring I had to get my first pair of “progressive” lenses. Those are the glasses that make it possible for you to read and watch TV at the same time. I was constantly taking my old glasses on and off in the evenings as I tried to first focus close – then far away.

I feel like I am falling apart. I have aches in places where I’ve never ached before.

It’s amazing how much of our emotional well-being is dependant on our physical bodies working properly. I am just starting to realize the connection and I need to do something serious about it.

Does anybody else wonder how you woke up one day and found yourself to be 45? I guess, like the rest of life, it happens one day at a time.

I am really struggling with this right now. When I think back on all the wasted moments that add up to days and weeks of time squandered on my own selfishness that did not improve me one iota or help others in anyway.

I am trying to examine where I am at this point in my life and how I can move forward in a manner that reflects that I have learned something from my experiences over the last 45 years. Some of that happens automatically. Some of it requires some serious consideration and thoughtfulness.

We all want our lives to count for something and mine has been a good one thus far. I have made a difference in the lives of others and the friendships I have are enduring ones.

However, I don’t want to just keep cruising along and reach age 65 having let another 20 years slip by. It’s time for a rest stop. I am looking for a retreat center nearby where I can get away for 24 hours and jump start the process.