I must admit I feel a little silly talking about this learning and development trick that I discovered in high school, yet I feel compelled to share this with you because I just put it to good use again yesterday, while at my corporate workplace—and I’m in my fifties now. This is one of those things that’s so simple, it should be obvious. And it is… after you’ve experienced the effect firsthand. Are you curious?
I promise you, I couldn’t make this complicated if I tried: If you want to test, or perhaps enhance, your own understanding of a given thing, try explaining it to somebody else. Not to yourself, not in your head, but out loud. Explain it to another human being, to that person’s satisfaction. Conversely, if you want to help a family member, friend, or associate work through the same process, encourage them to explain it to you. You might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
Let me tell you how it worked in high school. I had this chemistry class scheduled immediately after my lunch period. It so happens that a buddy of mine had the same class and the same lunch period as me. Every time we had a chemistry quiz or test scheduled, I would walk into the cafeteria and find this poor guy sitting with his nose buried in his chemistry textbook, sweating bullets. He would sit there, turning the same pages over and over and looking as if he were about to go before a firing squad. I could get acid indigestion just watching him. So I woul reach out.
“What’s wrong, Louie?”
“This chemistry shit, I just don’t get it.”
“What part don’t you understand?”
“Well, how about this…”
I assure you I wasn’t baiting my friend, but he always took that question as a challenge to show me the hard parts of any given chapter of that chemistry book. Louie would ask me about various theories, rules, and equations. I didn’t always know the answer, either, but I would look at what he was pointing at in the book, give the matter a little thought, think about how to explain it in terms I knew Louie would understand, and then explain it to him, exactly that way.
Louie would smile and nod. Then he’d turn the page and shoot back, “But what about this?” I would repeat the same process, over and again, until Louie was satisfied or until the bell rang, signaling everyone to get moving again.
That’s how I learned chemistry. I spent my entire lunch period explaining the most difficult parts of every chapter to my friend—without missing a bite, I might add—and then proceeded to ace every chemistry quiz and test that followed.
Did Louie benefit from our sessions? I hope so, but he would likely have been better off had he been the one doing all that talking.
Me? I thought I was just good at chemistry. Now I know better. Oh, had I known then what I know now! Right?
Yesterday I had finished developing a proposal for a potential new customer and while everything looked fine to me, I know that at times I can be my own worst proofreader. So I asked an associate to review my work. But rather than just email the documents and hope for the best, I opened them on a large display and asked my colleague to let me walk him through my steps.
In this particular case, the same process, more or less, yielded a different benefit. Neither of us was learning new concepts, yet by explaining the details of my work aloud to someone not directly involved, I was able to perceive my own work with the added dimension of unfamiliar eyes. And in the process, I saw things that I would not otherwise have seen.
“And this is where we define the duration of services. but I think there may be a better way to sync this up with Exhibit A…”
Synergy! Would my associates have seen that opportunity on their own? No more likely than I would have been, had I reviewed my own work in silence.
I can recall times long ago, when my own kids would be struggling with a subject in school. Sometimes it would help to let them talk in detail about the subject or the issue. They are adults now, as am I, and there are times when each of us may still benefit from the same approach.
This may be a rather wild analogy, but I was once told that in the Catholic rite of exorcism, a point is reached at which the exorcism may not proceed until the demon’s name is known. Then again, if you have ever been faced with the task of correcting an error hidden deep within a string of algebraic equations, or of finding that subtle flaw within many pages of a service agreement, perhaps the analogy isn’t so far-fetched after all.
Whether teaching ones self a new concept, perfecting ones approach to a potential new customer, or overcoming a stumbling block to better understanding, sometimes the key is to talk it out. Or to put his in ancient terms, if you can name it, you can conquer it.
I don’t know whether she began her life with a given name. Her shelter name was Madeline and by the time I’d met her, she had already cheated death twice. It was September of 2015. After having said goodbye to Rocky, our last dog of fourteen years, that past April, we’d finally decided that we were ready to bring a new four-legged family member into the fold. I began perusing the adoption listings on petfinder.com, occasionally sharing individual listings with the family to get their opinions on this or that prospect. After a few weeks, Madeline appeared in this listing (still there, with original photos) by Wags 2 Wishes Animal Rescue.
I shared her listing with the family and continued to share others, but I kept circling back to this one. The reason why was anything but obvious. Madeline was described as a lab mix and we weren’t necessarily looking for a large breed, although we had owned labs before. She was also a she, which wasn’t a deal breaker in itself, but we had always gone with male dogs in the past. Finally, she was being kept at a foster home until medically cleared, which meant she had health issues of some sort. There was certainly no shortage of healthy male dogs of smaller breeds, so why did I keep returning to this dog’s listing for another look?
Perhaps something deep inside told me this was the one, that this was to be our dog. After consulting with my wife, I messaged Wags 2 Wishes and inquired about arranging a visit to meet Madeline, who was being fostered somewhere up near the Illinois/Wisconsin border. They replied with an invitation to come see her at the shelter, right in Plainfield, as she had been cleared medically and was there. Thing was, we wouldn’t be able to get there before the weekend. What if somebody else came and took her? That very thought was driving me nuts. but we didn’t really have any alternatives and as Karen was quick to point out, if it was meant to be, she’d still be there.
She was there, and she seemed very happy to see Karen and me. If this pup was sickly, she was keeping it well-hidden. Madeline seemed to have the energy and curiosity of any healthy puppy, but as I said, she’d already cheated death twice by the time we first met. Madeline had been rescued from a kill shelter somewhere in Tennessee. What Karen and I hadn’t known is that this pup was listed to be put down the day she was rescued. Then while at her foster home, she became extremely ill. Turns out she had contracted a severe case of parvovirus and was not expected to survive. But she did survive and with a great deal of tender, loving care from her foster family, Madeline was nursed back to health. And so she was there to meet us that day—and after spending some time together at the shelter, she came home with us.
Later that day we dropped her shelter name and gave our pup her forever name, Leia. In the weeks and months that followed, Leia’s size and strength increased substantially. One day Karen thanked me for getting her the horse she’d always wanted. After much debate, we decided that her lineage is most likely a mix of Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd. She also began to show quite a mischievous streak. Leia—or the black princess, as I sometimes call her—proved herself to be a capable runner, digger and chewer, like none I had ever seen before. She tore all the landscape timbers from the ground and made kindling of them. She dug holes in the same rocky soil that blunted my best shovel and spade.She broke off fence planks on two sides of the yard so that she and the neighbor dogs can converse more easily. Last spring, in an effort to expend some of that energy, Leia and I began walking a few miles each day, which turned out to be good for me, too.
In so many ways, Leia has been unlike any other dog I’ve had. But as has been the case with every single canine companion of mine, we grew very close. When I come home, she eagerly greets me. Karen says she knows the sound of my motorcycle, apart from all the others in our area, and when I return from a ride, she can tell that it’s me heading into our subdivision. She is decidedly not a lap dog, yet she chooses to be near me. When I move around within our home, she follows. I can’t tell you how many times I have come out of the bathroom to find her curled up outside the door.
November 10, 2016 began as any other day for me. I woke up, said good morning to Leia, got ready for work, and then the two of us went downstairs. A few minutes later, I was on my way to work. Nothing had seemed different in any way, shape or form. But within minutes after I had arrived at work, my wife called to tell me Leia had collapsed and that she and our daughter were in the process of rushing her to the emergency vet. My head swam trying to process what I had just been told. I had a full day of work ahead of me and absolutely no desire to deal with any of it, but I knew that if I didn’t busy myself right then and there, I’d go mad. So I worked and waited.
We didn’t learn much that first day, only that Leia was in big trouble. She had no strength at all, couldn’t even stand up. Her blood counts had gone berserk and she was not clotting. Attempts to take simple blood draw caused a large hematoma on her neck. They had to wheel her in on a cart for Karen to say goodbye before taking her in back to begin administering fluids. A teary-eyed Karen filled me in and then left to get ready for work. I felt so empty inside, having no choice but to wait. My personal productivity that day was probably not the greatest, but I know I gave it my best, knowing that Karen would be back at the animal hospital before I could even leave my office.
When Karen returned around mid-afternoon that day, she had to visit Leia in her crate and the dog barely lifted her head in acknowledgement. On her last visit, right before visiting hours eneded, Leia walked into the exam/visiting room under her own power, albeit very slowly. Then she almost immediately laid down and closed her eyes. Karen visited for a while, spoke with the veterinarian, and then sent me the photo she took along with an update, that Leia was holding her own, but not improving. If she survived the next 24 hours, her prognosis might be better. In order to keep a medical appointment of my own, I wouldn’t be able to get back to Plainfield before visiting hours were over. My heart was heavy, not knowing whether I would see my girl again. I steeled myself and hoped for the best.
The following day, following a telephone update or two, I was able to go see Leia myself. Again she walked into the room under her own power, but that was about it. Karen had brought some scrambled eggs for her, but the dog would not eat. Her platelet and glucose counts were dangerously low and her liver values were too high to be measured by the vet’s equipment. One day later, an external lab result came back with a liver enzyme value above 10,000. Normal was 12 and high was anything over 60. The animal hospital’s machine would have counted anything up to 1,000. Leia’s values were higher than her vet had ever seen in a dog. Whatever had happened was causing her liver to die off. It could be a toxin, such as xylitol, the effects of a tick bite (we knew she’d had at least one), or even an autoimmune reaction. In addition, one of the lab results that came back indicated that she was heartworm positive, despite having been on a preventative medication all summer long. Treating the wrong cause could make it worse, so our only hope was to keep her liver going long enough to fight back. They gave her fluids, platelets, and antibiotics. On top of everyting else, the original estimate for the cost of treatment had been surpassed by the end of day two. We waited.
Leia was hospitalized for six days and but for that first day, I managed to see her at least once each day. During those days I watched her gradually become more alert. About halfway through, I got her to eat some grilled chicken that I’d cooked especially for her. Mostly we laid together and talked. We had to get her eating again in order to make it possible for her to take oral medications, thus making it possible for her to come home. We also had to have proof that her numbers were returning to normal, even though it might take a long time to get there. In an effort to give her veins and arteries a chance to recover, all four of her legs had been shaven and used for IV’s and blood draws. Every day we saw progress, though it was clear that Leia looked better in person than on paper, where her numbers still told a different story.
On the evening of day five, we got a call from one of the vets saying that Leia would be put on oral meds the following day and sent home. Her liver numbers had come down to 8,800, still many times normal, but a clear indication that her liver was no longer dying off. Understand that for most of this week, nobody on that veterinary staff had expected this dog to get out alive. That night, emotionally exhausted, even Karen admitted that she hadn’t believed Leia would come home again.
On the evening of day six, we brought Leia home. She had a long list of medications to take and we had a list of symptoms to watch for, any one of which might mean rushing her back to the animal hospital. Total billing to date was in excess of five thousand dollars. As long as everything went okay, we would come back in a week for another blood test. Because of the heartworm result, though, they prescribed six weeks of cage rest—little to no exercise of any kind that could cause an elevated heart rate.The idea was that any exertion could dislodge an adult heartworm and potentially kill my dog. Absolute cage rest was, however, out of the question for this dog, who in an effort to free herself had literally bent the bars of the strongest crate we could find.
So we did what we felt was the next best thing. Leia never went out except on a leash. I took her for daily walks, but only around one block—a fraction of what she’d been accustomed to—and only at a slow, walking pace. As her strength and energy returned with each passing day, Leia quickly grew tired of this routine.Meanwhile, Leia had many people hoping and praying for her, even since before she’d gotten out of the hospital, and her Facebook following surpassed my own.
As the one-week mark approached, Leia had visibly returned as close to normal as I could have hoped for. Along with all her other fans, I had been praying for her every day and as the day of her next blood test approached, I became certain that just getting her liver and platelet counts wouldn’t be good enough. So we made a rather unusual request: “Since you have to draw blood anyway, please run the heartworm test again.” The vet was understanding, but cautioned us that these results were usually very reliable.
On Wednesday, November 23, the day before Thanksgiving, Karen called me at work. Her voice was trembling as she relayed the news to me. The liver number had dropped to 826, a 90% decrease from one week prior. Her platelet count was normal… and the heartworm test had come back negative. Leia was now cleared for any activity. At that point Karen was crying and I was pretty close to doing so myself as I passed the news along to my family, friends and anybody at work who was willing to listen.
And so you see, this year Thanksgiving took on a very special meaning to me. Leia, my black princess, has cheated death three times. I have my dog back. It was raining on that Wednesday, and Leia hates getting wet, so we waited until Thanksgiving day to take our celebratory walk—over three miles worth. Today we did 3.7 miles, and only kept it down to that because I couldn’t keep up with the girl. The video clip below was taken during our walk. She’s back! Thanks be to God, my Leia is back!
I grew up in Blue Island, Illinois. I went to college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I came of drinking age, which would have been 1979 in Wisconsin and 1982 in Illinois, both of these cities were dotted with neighborhood bars, taverns, pubs, saloons, or whatever you would call them. Each had a personality of its own that would be difficult to explain to one not familiar with this sort of establishment. As drinking venues go, I have always preferred those to their larger, noisier counterparts. But more than that, some of these places were special to me.
I speak of neighborhood bars, because I am by and large a city mouse, but should point out that small town bars seem to have the same flavor as these—only there aren’t nearly as many to choose from. Back when I lived and drank in Blue Island, for example, that city had a population of just over 20,000 people. Not a terribly large community by some standards, but there were many bars there, not just on the main thoroughfares, but in the residential areas—the neighborhoods—themselves. Each was a place quite unique unto itself, quite different from all the others. Many of these establishments have gone away since that time, but you get the idea.
When you find a good one, you know so, because it resonates with you somewhere deep within. Case in point, my personal favorite in the Blue Island of my day was a place called the Backstage, on the corner of Vermont Street and Hoyne Avenue. Get this, my favorite neighborhood bar wasn’t even in my neighborhood. Ha! The place was awesome. It had atmosphere. The Backstage was the kind of place where people could meet and talk and have fun, without being bothered. The owner kept a nice place, something I learned to appreciate over time. But alas, it’s long gone now. That property isn’t even a bar anymore, And truth be told, there are fewer places like this in that town… maybe elsewhere, too.
Milwaukee, circa 1983, the last year I lived there as a student at Marquette University. Back then I could walk two blocks in any direction from my apartment and hit at least one bar, usually way more than one. The whole city seemed to be full of them. My personal favorite, that year? I had two. Very near my apartment was the Harp & Shamrock on West Wells Street. Although the place still stands, I’m sure the original proprietor Bernie Conway is now long gone. What a character he was! Bernie kept a clean place, where one would always feel safe, as long as you were not a vagrant or otherwise undesirable sort, in the owner’s estimation (let me leave it at that). He had a large bartender named Tom, who also doubled as the bouncer, and a large German Shepherd named Duke, who slept behind the bar, helping the patrons feel safe, I guess. In 1983 the Harp & Shamrock was a throwback bar, in every sense of the word, yet I loved that place. It was there that I first kissed the girl who would become my wife, despite the fact that at the time, she was already engaged to marry another—that’s a long, sordid story for another time.
My second favorite exists only as a memory now, Wimpy’s Hunt Club, way over on the east side of the city, a stone’s throw from Milwaukee’s old Oriental Theater. Now this place had class. Owned by one Wilbert “Wimpy” Kotas (I knew him only as Wimpy), a silver-haired gentleman who usually wore a crisp, white dress shirt behind the bar. Up on the wall behind him hung a beautiful painting (maybe it was a print, I no longer recall) of a classic fox hunt scene. Opposite the bar was a row of old-fashioned horseshoe booths. The jukebox was loaded with Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and such. No beer on tap, only bottled. This was a clean, quiet, classy place. I only took certain friends there and was very sad the night I returned, just a few years later, and found it gone.
Some additional years after that, while having dinner in Chicago, I learned from a business acquaintance who had lived above that very bar when he was first married (small world indeed) that Wimpy had been murdered one morning after closing up the bar. While walking home, he encountered two men fighting. I’m sure Wimpy’s barkeeper instincts kicked in, he moved in to stop the fight, and was stabbed to death. This apparently happened in 1984, just one year after I had graduated and left Milwaukee. As happy as I had been to meet somebody who had known Wimpy’s Hunt Club, I was stunned by this news.
Now fast forward to 2016. Bars like I just described are somewhat hard to come by in the sprawl of exurbia, where I live. Sports bars are a dime a dozen out here—they open and disappear with predictable regularity out my way, because let’s face it, how many large, noisy sports bars can any community support. But I found a place this year. I found a place that rivals the kind of establishments I just described to you.
I don’t know if Lemont, Illinois is big enough to have neighborhoods, but I’ll tell you this: Lemont has a hell of a bar. Let me tell you about Nick’s Tavern. I’ve only been there twice, so far, but I can already tell you one thing: I like this place. It has everything I look for in a drinking establishment.
Here you will not find dozens of tappers, nor a ten-page menu, nor giant TV screens glaring at you from every direction. And that’s okay by me. If I want any of that, I’ll go to a mega sports bar, the kind I can find in just about every city and village within the greater Chicagoland metropolitan area. They’re all alike and on most days, as far as I’m concerned, you can have them. Just give me a place like Nick’s.
Give me a place with a bit of history, and maybe some good stories to go along with that history. A place where I am made to feel welcome the minute I step through that door. Nick’s Tavern is that kind of place. The wood paneling and somewhat weathered-looking wooden bar give the place a warm atmosphere. Certain touches, like the old cash register on display in one corner and the stamped metal tile ceiling, tell you that this place has been around for a while. The bartenders greet people as they arrive and seem genuinely glad to see everyone, even me. The regulars are greeted by name.
People are eating, drinking, talking, laughing… and it just makes me smile to see and hear all this. The first time I went there, I brought my wife and we both liked it. The second time, I brought a friend who had grown up with me in Blue Island, and who had also drank quite heavily with me back in the day. The following day he texted me, “If Nick’s was in between our houses, I would make that our our usual meeting place. I like that place.”
To which I could only reply, “Me, too!” I invited my friend Ed to come out and see Nick’s because I had already known he was going to like it there. When you drink together for as long as Ed and I have been drinking together, you get to know each others preferences.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about the food. They make a very good burger at Nick’s, but come hungry. The full-on Nickburger is a one-pounder and the smaller Little Nickburger, which I get, is still half a pound of ground beef. Believe me, it’s fresh and tasty. They also do Italian beef, chicken sandwiches and more, but so far I haven’t gotten past the burger. No fries here, only chips.
I should also mention that Nick’s is a a cash-only proposition. What can I tell you, it’s a classic small bar.
But you know what? That’s just the way I like it. You’ll find Nick’s Tavern right on Main Street in downtown Lemont. Check it out. And as always, thanks for hanging with me.