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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A long difficult journey ends...........

After living for 5 years under a blanket of frustration caused by Alzheimer's Disease, my mother, Charlie Kentros, passed away early Sunday morning, August 26th.

I remember back to 2002 or so when she started having problems remembering things, but never thought it could be this terrible disease causing it. Everyone forgets things, I do it all the time, but no one could have prepared us for the difficult years ahead as the disease slowly but steadily took her away from us.

For the last two years, I've visited my mom at Avamere, an assisted living facility in St. Helens, Oregon. During the first visit, I saw my mom's room at Avamere, which was like a studio apartment. She had a kitchenette, a small living area with a bed and her TV with videos, and her own bathroom. I was very happy to see that she had her own space because regardless of this disease, my mother held on to her independence as long as she possibly could. Her speech was very much in tact, albeit scattered at times. The second visit, a year later, was an entirely different story.

In the time between the first and second visits, my wife and I had our wedding. I had talked to my mom about attending but travel was not good for her and I thought as much as I wanted her at the wedding, I didn't want to cause her any stress to further worsen her condition. We had our wedding and my wife Kacy made a large scrapbook of our wedding from beginning to end. I took that scrapbook with me to show my mom. We sat at the table and went through, picture by picture. She seemed to understand what was going on but at the same time, it looked as though it was filtering through her instead of being retained. By that time, her short term memory was greatly harmed as well as the ability for her to take new information. Regardless, I sat there and talked with her about everything. We had lunch and I visited with her in her room, this time in another section of Avamere because the progression of her condition required that she be in more constant care so she lost her own space.

It was very difficult to see just how much further she had declined, even though her spirits were up. My mom loved to laugh, and she was still smiling so I can be thankful that she didn't go the other way, in which the patients can become very angry and very mean. I can't picture my mom like that, so I'm grateful that I wasn't forced to.

That second visit was November of 2006, and not long after seeing her I started receiving emails about her having seizures and operations. It was obvious that things were progressing much faster than anyone could have expected. The director of Avamere, who has had several years experience in caring for Alzheimer's patients, said that she's never seen the disease affect someone as quickly as it did my mom. On Friday night, August 24th,upon arriving home, I was called by my aunt Donna who had cared for mom when all of this started. She said that mom had a swollen gland that became infected. She was on Morphine in bed, and unresponsive. I knew at that moment that the next phone call would be the one I would not want to hear, and that it would be soon; I was unprepared for just how soon.

Sunday morning, I was up for a little while already with our son Gavin. I got a call from my sister Kris, who had heard from Donna. At close to 7am, Mom had passed away.

There is no way to accurately express the kind of emotion that you feel when you get that kind of information. Somehow, through all of the immediate sorrow I felt, I was hit with a rush of relief knowing that my mom wouldn't spend another minute living like she was for the last five years. I'm not a religious person, but I can accept the fact that my mother is no longer in any kind of pain or not confused anymore. The relief was short-lived, as I got a call from my dad only 20 minutes after hearing the news. I wasn't sure if he knew or not, until he asked if I was OK. All of the sorrow hit me at once, and it was all I could do to just respond when he asked if I was alright and still there.

The words were there, they were just buried under the lump in my throat and drown by the well of tears in my eyes. My dad and I are a lot alike, in that we hide our emotion under an armor of artificial strength. I was unable to hide anything at that moment though, and it came out for a while. He came to see me and we all went to lunch, including Kacy and our baby Gavin. Dad gave a short toast for mom and I was able to hold back the tears that time, but they were there waiting. My dad is a very emotional person when he allows himself to be and I could see in his eyes that this was devastating to him. He is on his third marriage now, but will always refer to my mom as his first love, which is something I appreciate.

I'm sitting here trying to describe the kind of heartache that comes with the loss of a loved one, as the tears I've held back are presenting themselves again.

My mother was my friend, someone who no matter what happened I knew I could depend on for anything. She and I bowled together in a league and that was the closest we ever have been in my whole life. We weren't just hanging out as a mom and her kid, we were seeing each other in a different light, getting an idea of who the other person was, or in my case would be. When I was about 12 years old, she worked for Frito-Lay and would pick me up near our house. I went to the warehouse with her and would joke around with the other workers and help her get ready for the next day. It was some of the most fun I ever had growing up. Many of my memories revolve around her work or hanging out with her at work because she worked very hard at any job she had. She tended bar for years before working for Frito-Lay, not because it was her dream job, but because it meant that she was providing for me and my sister no matter what that meant.

She was successful at her jobs because she gave it her all, and everyone at her work recognized her for it and loved her because of who she was. She's the kind of person who would give and give and not think twice about how hard it would be or how much of her time it would take, and she never asked or expected anything in return.

Through Frito-Lay, she made a friend named Mary. Mary and her husband Tony are great friends to my mom and me. They threw some of the best parties for the Super Bowl that I've ever been too and my mom and I had a blast. She also went to their Halloween parties but I was living away at the time so I wasn't there. I talked to Mary on Sunday after hearing the news. For years, I had not talked to them but stopped by on Super Bowl Sunday of this year because I figured they were setting up for their party, as I was on my way to a party where my dad and friends would be. They were just relaxing at home and I got the chance to catch up with them, and it was nice. Tony and I always had similar tastes and interests in music and so we talked about that. I also caught them up with everything going on with my mom, which was before things got really bad with the seizures. Seeing them is like seeing family because they were and are still such a big part of my mom and her happiest times.

I will always remember my mother for the happy person she was, how much she loved her family and friends, and how hard she worked for her family. She was very proud of her grandsons, my nephews Bryson and Devin, but never had the opportunity to meet my son Gavin, her third grandson. I will make sure that Gavin knows who his grandmother was, because I was only 1 year old when my dad's father died but through my family I know what kind of man he was and it affects me as though I actually knew him.

Nothing can prepare someone for the indescribable pain involved with seeing someone they love slip away as she did. I was very naive about Alzheimer's before she had it. I thought that it was a rare disease that few and far between have. I've learned in recent years that I could not be farther from the haunting reality of this disease.

As taken from the Alzheimer Association website, dated 3/20/2007:

The Alzheimer’s Association today reports that in 2007 there are now more than 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease. This number includes 4.9 million people over the age of 65 and between 200,000 and 500,000 people under age 65 with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. This is a 10 percent increase from the previous prevalence nationwide estimate of 4.5 million.

The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, and with 78 million baby boomers beginning to turn 60 last year, it is estimated that someone in America develops Alzheimer’s every 72 seconds; by mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.

Visit the website for the Alzheimer's Association and take action so that your representatives will urge the funding and research that may someday make Alzheimer's as treatable as the the Flu.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Van Halen "Jump"s back on stage

HELL HAS FROZEN OVER!! (see previous post)
After a long buildup following Eddie's trip to rehab, Van Halen will take the stage in September marking their first show with David Lee Roth in 23 years.

Replacing original bassist Michael Anthony will be Eddie's son, Wolfgang, whose playing has been described by dad as "dangerous". Wolfie is a triple threat, playing drums, bass and guitar and is expected to bring a youthful energy to rejuvenate a band that has fizzled out in recent times. The last tour in 2004 had Sammy Hagar returning to the mic after being away for 8 years following a bitter separation. The end of the tour marked the end of Sammy's return as old habits presented themselves again, namely Ed's drinking, which prevented the possibility of a new record with Hagar as told by himself.

Upon reading a recent People magazine featuring Eddie's ex wife Valerie Bertinelli, Wolfie mentioned some relief in his dad going to rehab, which put this tour off, but not just so he could get better. There was some question as to whether he felt ready for the task at hand, understandably. I see this tour as a way for Ed and Alex Van Halen to show that they've still got some magic left and the weight of carrying these two will rest firmly on the shoulders of the 15-year old Wolfie. I'm not expecting much from Roth, although I've never personally seen him live. My friend Tony, owner of the "Hazy Concert Memories" blog on my right sidebar, has seen him and reported that his voice is pretty much shot these days from the abuse over the years. If you heard his short-lived stint as the "replacement" for Howard Stern on radio, you clearly heard what Tony meant.

I'm excited for the fans of the Roth era, as this has been a long time coming and even Sammy has wished for this event. Sam took Dave on tour for what they called "The Heavyweight Champs of Rock N Roll" which was well documented on his "Long Road To Cabo" DVD. He mentions how much it would mean for the fans to have a tour with Dave and at one point Kid Rock steps in to get both singers to share the stage for a song or two; Roth backed out at the last minute, which spawned a running joke with Hagar. Overall, the tour proved highly successful for Hagar, who mixes a blend of Halen hits with his own solo catalog which spans 3 decades. At one point on the DVD, Sam reads a concert review of the tour, noting that Roth received icy cold reception while Hagar himself is gloriously applauded for doing what he does best and not trying to recreate Van Halen with his band, The Waboritas, but to celebrate the music he made with them.

I've always favored Sammy Hagar over David Lee Roth, and anyone who tries to deny that Van Halen's success was far superior under Hagar's leadership is in denial. Roth helped get that band in the spotlight, just in time for Sammy to launch them to icon status. Two of the best songs I think Roth recorded with Van Halen, "Me Wise Magic" and "Can't Get This Stuff No More", were included on their first compilation album, "Van Halen Best Of Volume 1" but proved to be a short-lived reunion as Roth claims to have been mislead into a tour and new album, while Eddie maintained that their intentions were always clear. Following the tryst between Roth and the brothers Halen, former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone stepped in. Van Halen released "III", which was so bad that it was originally scrapped by Warner Brothers and they were sent back to the studio to record new tracks. They toured shortly, but no amount of classics could save them and Cherone got the boot at tour's end.

It was said that this reunion tour with Roth is a jumping point for a new album and world tour to follow. During a recent press conference, Ed hugs Roth and calls him "my new brother". We'll see if their brotherly love carries them through the tour, hoping that the old days don't catch up with them. I honestly hope that they can get out there and blow their fans away, as they did in their Roth-era prime. I hope that they come back from this tour brimming with ideas and quickly put those ideas into a new album, and lastly I hope that once Ed gets this out of his system he'll call up Sammy and do things the right way (if Sammy will have him back).

Ed and Alex, along with Wolfie, have had nearly 8 years of "downtime" so we all know there is plenty of music ready for vocals. If the only piece of music Ed made during his time off was a couple tracks for an adult film, it may be a signal that this guitar giant has tapped out his creative resources. Here's hoping that son Wolfie can inspire dear old dad to belt out enough material to return them to the lofty status they once enjoyed, some 12 years ago.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Barry Bonds: home run king or steroid joke?

I've been watching Bonds chase history out of the corner of my eye, hoping that in the presence of steroid controversy he would never achieve the home run record and my hopes were very short-lived. On Tuesday, August 7th, against the Washington Nationals, Barry sent a ball into the right center stands to become the owner of the home run record with 756.

When Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, known as The Bash Brothers, ruled the bay area scene back in the late '80s I was truly interested in baseball for the first time. After Canseco hit a slump and started to make headlines outside of baseball (by driving his car 202 mph allegedly using jet fuel), I turned to McGwire to be my baseball icon of choice. Several years later, he brought the first widespread home run chase to attention, battling Sammy Sosa for the single season home run record, which is also owned by Barry Bonds.

In a cowardly move, Canseco published a book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, Canseco documented injecting McGwire and Sosa, among others, with steroids. Some will say that the book only points out the obvious, that during the McGwire-Sosa battle, they were looking awfully enlarged and bloated pointing to steroid use. Personally, until I see bulletproof test results dating back to the height of their success, I will not let a washed up has-been like Canseco ruin my image of McGwire as one of the very best. Many of the most loved and respected players in baseball came to McGwire's side and maintain to this day that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

One thing that I know is that steroids does nothing but add muscle mass to your body, so to say that steroids make you a better hitter isn't necessarily the case. They can make you a 'harder' hitter, so when you connect the ball will travel further than it may have before. So basically to say that these players got help from steroids is to say that it made them hitters when they weren't before. I say that any players who used steroids would have achieved their accolades inevitably, if only much later in their careers.

Two-time NL Dale Murphy claims that Barry Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs "without a doubt". He goes on to say that "He [Barry] hit 73 home runs when he was 37. I mean, Hank would have hit 855 if he had the same advantage.” I'm guessing these two aren't the best of friends. Maybe Mr. Murphy didn't get a Christmas card last year, and somebody's a little bitter. Nothing says class like a man who is out of the game and has to step in at the high point of another player's career and shit all over it.

There is plenty of "evidence" all over the Internet that will point you to a closed-case for Bonds, sending him to purgatory to sit along with Pete Rose. However, none of it comes from a court or the MLB itself. A book, Game of Shadows, appears to have solid evidence against Bonds but is not an official document stemming from an investigation. It contains the words of people who have made observations and turned them into "evidence" that Bonds has used steroids. The authors of that book have been subpoenaed and made to turn over copies of federal jury transcripts used in the book, due to the illegal actions of leaking the documents.

Bonds testified in December 2003 to a grand jury that he was given substances known as "the clear" and "the cream" by a trainer who was indicted in a steroid-distribution ring, not knowing he was using steroids. He has been tested several times, with negative results.
Either Bonds has Bud Selig, baseball commissioner, in his pocket along with several others or he simply is an incredible hitting force.

After hitting number 756 last night, Bonds says that his record is "not tainted at all, period".
So until there is any concrete evidence otherwise, we have a new home run king. Just as I have stood by McGwire over the years, I can't get in the way of the fans out there whose hero just became the main slugger for years to come. Regardless of what anyone says, especially those who are out to get Mr. Bonds, this is very good for baseball and for the city of San Francisco. CONGRATULATIONS BARRY BONDS!!!