You read about earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornados and you wonder what it would be like to experience them firsthand. You see footage of extreme weather on TV, and you can't help but empathize with the poor folks who had to suffer through it.

The thing is, until you experience it for yourself, you really have no idea what it's like. My lovely wife, Charlotte, and I just had such an experience, and I sure hope we never have to repeat it.

We were driving my mini-van on I-88 East, about a half-hour east of Binghamton, on a recent rainy summer Sunday. We were towing an enclosed trailer with a couple of motorcycles in it, so our speed was really slow, between 55 and 60 miles per hour at the most.

Soon the rain began coming down in buckets. It was so bad several cars had pulled off to the shoulder to wait it out. I try to always have good tires and good wipers on my cars, so I continued going slowly, dealing with it as best I could. Not a great situation but nothing we haven't seen before. Just being extra careful usually works fine.

Then we noticed some thunder and lightning appear in the distance. It seemed to me like it was far off. I wasn't too worried but my wife was getting nervous.

The next thing you know there was a humongous explosion, and at the same time a bright, blinding light. When I say explosion, I mean there was a very loud KABOOOOM. A split second later, the van shook as all the warning lights on the dash came on and the engine shut off. Holy cow.

This was in the right lane, on a slight uphill, in a blinding downpour. Somehow I kept my wits about me and got the entire rig, including the trailer, completely onto the narrow shoulder before the forward momentum stopped. Whew. I'm surprised my underwear stayed clean after that.

So now we're on the side of I-88 East with a dead mini-van and trailer. In total, we would be there for four hours, and, in that entire time, not even one State Trooper passed in either direction.

Isn't it amazing that when you're speeding they're so plentiful? I mean, four hours is a long time to be stuck on the shoulder. Let me tell you, when a semi-trailer passes right next to you at 70 miles per hour, you really, really feel it; the wind blows and the ground shakes. It's truly frightening.

My wife and I had no choice but to work the cell phones, trying to find any help or assistance. I have a road-towing plan, but get this — they wouldn't come because they only give you a tow if you have a breakdown. Getting hit by lightning is, according to them, an "accident" and therefore not eligible for breakdown service.

Does this sound right to you? It doesn't to me — I mean, when you're stuck your stuck, but that's what we were told. Fortunately, our insurance company came through, and eventually we got towed, thought it wasn't cheap — $150 each for the van and the trailer, ouch.

This is the mini-van I wrote about a while ago. I purchased it used from a well-known local dealer, and it came with a terrific warrantee — as long as I let them do all the oil changes. I've been changing my own oil since I was 16 and I enjoy doing it, but I had to give this up due to the warrantee.

So, from the side of the road, I call them. I tell them what happened, figuring I'll get the van towed to them and use my warrantee coverage, when I hear on the phone that we had just experienced an "act of God" and as such would have no coverage. Hmm

I asked where in the manual it said I couldn't drive in rain storms. They said it didn't say that, but still it's an "act of God" and no warrantee coverage of any kind would be provided.

The guy on the phone must have said “act of God” five times before I hung up in frustration. I mean, at least say something like, “Bring it to us and we'll look at it and see what we can do.” You know, try to be helpful. Try to make it seem like you care about your customer.

This is why I will never shop at that dealer again. I never from day one felt like they were on my side. Quite frankly, I don't know how they stay in business. Even if getting hit by lightning is considered an act of God, at least show some kind of compassion for your very stressed out customers in their time of need.

My lovely wife did some research, and it seems like, when a car gets hit by lightning, the insurance company has no choice but to total it. Amazingly, there were no burn marks or any other visible damage on the car or trailer, so my insurance company wanted to try to have the car fixed. As if I'd want to drive or even be able to sell a car that had been totally disabled by lightning.

Over a two-week period, they had the shop where I'd had the van towed try a new computer, a new alternator, and many other electrical parts. We spoke to the mechanic doing the work — he said it was like trying to plug up a leaky garden hose, where you plug up one hole and another opens up.

They finally had him give up when there were serious problems with the air bags. Good thing I had full comprehensive coverage on this vehicle.

I do some work on cars, and I have the tool to read the on-board diagnostic system. For example, you plug the code reader into a connector under the steering wheel, and it might read something like this: P0301 Cylinder 1 Misfire Detected

Pretty straightforward — check the plug, wire, and coil for number-one cylinder and go from there.

Can you imagine what the code says on a car that was hit by lightning?

ZZZZZ — Are you serious? You're hosed! Better get to the bank and get a new car loan.

All kidding aside, the explosion from the lightning strike was so loud, powerful, violent, and scary, I hope I never have to experience anything like that ever again. I'm told the next time it happens, just pull over and sit with your hands in your lap (don't touch any metal) and wait it out. Extreme weather is better when you read about it or see it on TV, trust me.

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— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

Four knives: One from the author’s ex-girlfriend, a classic Buck hunting knife, a whittling and carving knife, and a throwing knife.

I had an argument with a girlfriend one time — I can't even remember what it was about — and to patch things up she gave me a nice Buck pocketknife. Well, the girlfriend is long gone but that knife is still one of my favorites. The knife was easily the best part of that relationship.

I'm a big fan of knives. A knife can be so primal, pure, and simple in design and execution. Think of our primitive ancestors honing a flat piece of stone on a big rock to make a sharp edge — the first real manmade tool.

A simple knife is not much more in concept than that. Knives may be the best all-around tools ever designed by humanity.

I know hunters and outdoorsmen need knives to field dress game. Same with fisherman, chefs, and many more — knives serve a specific purpose for them. I camp a little but I don't ever need to cut back brush or dress an animal. Still, I love my cheap machete. Every time I hold it, I feel like I'm ready to tackle the wild.

There are many ways to enjoy a knife. Pride of ownership is one but there are so many more.

A good large knife will have a heft to it, a solid feel in your hand. That's a wonderful feeling. Even smaller knives, many jewel-like in their construction, can be very satisfying to hold and admire. Craftsmanship never goes out of style.

Of course, knives are for cutting, whether something mundane like breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling or more fancy like preparing dinner. Knives are very useful in so many ways.

An interesting thing about knives is that sharp ones are much safer than dull ones. That's kind of counterintuitive, I know, but, if you think about it for a while, it makes sense. A dull knife is dangerous because you have to force it so hard to cut something.

Any time you're forcing a knife, there's a chance you might slip and that's where you get into trouble. Conversely, a sharp knife makes cutting smooth, almost effortless, so there's much less chance of an accident.

You have to handle sharp knives with respect. A quality knife will come with a sheath of some sort that protects the edge from harm and you from the edge.

Good kitchen knives come with a wooden block that keeps the knives safe from you and from each other. Despite knowing all this, I still have a drawer in my kitchen with random knives just banging around in there. Surprisingly, they still work for many tasks. Serving butter and opening letters don't require much of an edge.

Speaking about sharpening, there is an entire industry of knife-sharpening gadgets. Many of them work so poorly as to be just about useless. A lot of them are V shaped pull-through things that work for a while, but then wear out right in the spot where you need them most.

To truly sharpen knives well and consistently (assuming a clean, straight knife in good condition) requires you to be aware of the edge angle (and know how to alter if it necessary); to thin the knife (the secondary bevel) if it needs it; to use the appropriate abrasives in a consistent fashion; and to remove the burr with a final stropping step.

 

Ready, aim, throw: Frank L. Palmeri made this knife-throwing target and finds it “surprisingly satisfying to throw some knives around.” — Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

 

When you think about all that, it's easy to see why they sell a lot of cheap knife sharpeners. A lot of folks don't have the time or interest to really learn to sharpen knives the right way.

One thing you can do to prevent dulling kitchen knives is to try to avoid glass cutting boards; glass is very tough on a knife edge. Instead, use boards made of wood or a manmade material (and go easy when cutting that steak). Your knife edges will thank you very much (and don't forget to keep your cutting boards very clean so harmful bacteria doesn't become a problem).
 
  

There is an article on Wikipedia titled "Scary Sharp" that describes a simple and inexpensive method to sharpen things like chisels and planer blades relatively easily (you can use this method for knives in general but you might need a guide of some sort to hold a consistent angle until you get good at doing it freehand).

All you need is a piece of thick glass or another smooth surface and some sandpaper. Attach some coarse sandpaper to the smooth surface. Then place the blade on the sandpaper, bevel side down, and start to move it around. If it's wet-dry paper, you can spray some water on it as you go.

Then you do the same with finer and finer grits of sandpaper. If you flatten the back of the tool first, then hone the bevel using coarse to fine sandpaper, and finally remove the burr on a leather strop or similar, you will indeed get a "scary sharp" edge.

Of course, there are many variations on this — go to YouTube and search and you'll see plenty — but the point (pun intended) is you can do some really good sharpening with not much of an investment in supplies and some very basic techniques.

I collect those ubiquitous 20-percent off Harbor Freight coupons that appear in newspapers and magazines because you never know when you might need one. I'd been using a little penknife to cut them out.

Recently I sharpened the penknife. The next time I cut out a coupon, using the same pressure as I always do, I cut through three extra magazine pages. The difference between a dull knife and a sharp knife is truly amazing.

You know how yo-yos go in and out of style about once ever seven to 10 years? That's how I am with knives. Something just clicks and then all of a sudden I start buying just about every knife I can find.

Again I don't do a lot of outdoor-type activities; I just really appreciate a well designed and manufactured knife. Don't get the idea that I'm a collector, though — that's a game for investors with a lot of money.

I only buy knives that I will actually use: multi-tools, Swiss Army knives, kitchen, carving, everyday carry, etc. There are so many categories of quality knives available these days that this has to be the golden age of knife making.

I'd like to be able to carry some kind of knife on my person at all times but it's not always easy to do. In jacket-wearing weather, you have plenty of pockets to choose from but lose the jacket and things get harder.

There are only so many pants pockets and those are already spoken for by the wallet, phone, hanky, change, comb, and keys (at least I always have my trusty Swiss Army knife on my key ring). Many knives come with belt attachments, but these don't look right with office, dress, or some casual attire.

Sometimes, when I'm working on stuff, I load up my belt with a knife, a tape measure, a flashlight, and my phone, then I start to feel like Batman with his utility belt. Too much to deal with.

One of the more interesting knives I own comes with a strap that goes on your calf right above your ankle. For dinner once, I took my lovely wife to our favorite restaurant, and just for kicks I decided to bring that knife.

It was quite something to be eating a gourmet meal and drinking fine wine while feeling this knife on my leg, with no one having any idea it was there. I've not carried that knife in this manner since — too much to think about when you just want to have a good time. There's a time and a place for everything.

Some of my knives have sentimental value, like that old Buck knife. Then there's the multi-tool I thought was lost for five years until finding it behind a desk; my trusty Swiss Army knife with its tiny super-sharp scissors; and my cool little black mini-machete (I had a neighbor who felt the need to carry a full-sized machete just to visit relatives on Long Island!).   

The other day I did a YouTube search on "knife skills." As you might imagine, I found many chef's demonstrating their skillful manipulation of kitchen knives. Then there's the Japanese sushi and steakhouse chefs, whose deft knife skills are legendary.

I also found a video from an ex-Israeli Defense Forces member, giving tips on hand-to-hand combat using knives. That guy was so intense I had trouble getting to sleep that night. Amazing that the same tool can be used for so many different purposes.

Of course, the dark side of knives is that they can be used for violence. Still, it's the person, not the knife, that causes the problem. I don't like flying in general but the fact that you can't even bring a little key-chain knife on a plane anymore really rubs me the wrong way. It's the same story as always — the few bad apples always ruin it for the rest of us.

Recently, I've been getting into whittling and knife throwing. Whittling is fun because you can do it almost anywhere. Skilled whittlers and carvers can produce amazing works of art. I'm nowhere near that (if I can just carve a little without cutting myself I'm happy).

Knife throwing is simple in concept but full of subtleties in technique and execution (another pun, sorry). I built a target and it's surprisingly satisfying to throw some knives around. When you "stick" a well thrown knife solidly, it's a really good feeling.

Knives are great to own, admire, and use, and learning to sharpen knives well is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who appreciates a precision tool. It's terrific that such simple things like knives and such basic skills as sharpening are still so useful in this modern day and age. Now that I think about it, I’ve always wanted a Samurai sword . . . .

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I need a hug. I don't need a drink, or a doughnut, or a Cadillac CTS sales brochure. I just need a hug.
The kind of hug I need is the kind that comes out of nowhere. An unexpected hug, if you will. A hug that comes with no strings attached, like a sun shower that comes in and out before you know it. That's the kind of hug I need.

 In return for this hug, I promise absolutely nothing in return. I'm not going to install your room air-conditioner, or move your yard-sale dresser purchase, or babysit your parrot. The hug you give me has to come with absolutely no strings attached. That's the kind of hug I'm looking for. A free as in beer hug.

The hug you give me can be a smothering, bosomy Aunt Lena type hug. Those are always nice. But let me state for the record that you don't need to have a big bosom to give me a hug.

In fact, it's perfectly all right if you have a small bosom, or even no bosom. That's right, even if you are a man, you can give me a hug. I'm open to hugs from one and all, with no regard to age, gender, national origin, etc. It's all good, as they say.

When you give me the hug, please make sure it's on a day when you have no or very little perfume or cologne on. A little of that stuff goes a long way. Sometimes I'll get on an empty elevator and the lingering perfume is so strong, you can still smell it.

Speaking of perfume in elevators: The other day, four young girls got on an elevator and one had the most intoxicating perfume I've ever encountered, a deliciously fragrant combination of flowers, fruit, and candy, if you can believe that. I tried to think of some non-creepy way to ask her what it was but then the door opened and she was gone. Never before or since have I encountered anyone who smelled that good.

If you are wearing that perfume, please hug me as soon as possible. Also please let my lovely wife know what brand it is. I need more of that perfume in my life.

While administering the hug to me, you are allowed to squeeze as hard as you like, within reason. Please do not squeeze so hard or so long that I begin to have difficulty breathing.

While I like hugs very much, I like unobstructed breathing even more, thank you very much. If you insist on hugging me too long or too hard, I'll pull out my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine and mask. Trust me, you don't want to see that.

If you give me the hug between normal business hours — from 9 to 5 between Monday and Friday — you will earn Double Points in your Permanent Record. Remember in high school when they told you, if you did something bad, it would go in your Permanent Record? Yes it's true and we all have one.

The reason you receive Double Points when you give a hug during normal business hours is because these hugs are so rare. Hugs during normal business hours are inversely proportional to Fucillo commercials. So why not go for it, it'll be HUGE.

I'd prefer it if, during the hug, you spoke very little or not at all. I know it's tempting when we're close like that for you to say something heartfelt to me, like, "I love you" or, "Get off of my foot" or whatever. But truly, let's keep the moment as simple and sweet as possible. "Silence is golden" is more than a cliché.

I understand a hug from you comes with no warranty expressed or implied; however, if you should fail to more your head to the right enough and bump me in the noggin (it happens), requiring me to visit a doctor for my headache, or worse, I feel it's only fair if you at least make my medical co-pay. A tray of brownies would be nice as well (made with applesauce instead of oil so they're low-fat and relatively healthy).

Every now and then, they have master pickpockets on TV. I've seen these guys go in for a hug and remove watches, wallets — heck, I think I saw one guy remove a person’s underwear during a hug. Please don't remove anything from me when you give me the hug. Trust me on this; it's not very nice, and you don't know where I've been. You've been warned.

I haven't been able to exercise much lately, so there's a good chance you'll feel all or part of my belly during the hug. This doesn't give you the right to make snarky comments like, "Have you been eating for two?" or, "Boy, there's a lot of you to love" or anything like that.

Middle-age spread is nothing to laugh about. My stretched-out belts will back me up on this.

There was a guy named Leo Buscaglia who made a whole career on giving and getting hugs. Can you believe that?

I'm still working full-time so, as much as I'd like to, I can't spend that much time on hugging. Still, if you have an idea for a part-time hugging based business venture, I'm all ears.

Think I'm kidding? There are actually very well paid full-time "professional cuddlers" now. I saw it on TV so it must be true. Leo would have loved that I'm sure.

On the day of the hug, if you should buy a lotto ticket and hit the big one, you are surely not required to throw some my way. However, if you want to buy me, say, a drink or a Mazda Miata — in crimson red of course — that would be fine. It's entirely up to you.

After the hug, I may say something like, "Thank you" or, "I like chicken," but, if I don't say anything, please don't be offended. I may have something else besides your hug on my mind so I may just give you a smile or a dumb stare. You know, just looking normal.

You can rest assured that your hug will make me feel better. How could it not; it's a hug after all.

If world leaders hugged more often you know the world would be a better place. We need a World Hugging Summit in some nice place like Oslo. If you want to start one there, let me know (and when you buy my plane ticke,t get me an aisle seat so I can get to the bathroom easily; I'm old after all).

I need a hug.

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Believe it or not, a lot of people tell me they love reading my column. There's no accounting for taste, haha, but today I'm very sad because I just lost my number-one fan. My mother, Gertrude "Trudy" (Colasanti) Palmeri, just died and I have such a heavy heart I can barely breathe. Truly the Earth just lost one of those bright lights that make the world a better place.

When you grow up as the oldest son in an Italian family, you are treated like royalty, for better or worse. For example, I still can't make a bed properly because I never had to. Same thing with washing clothes and other general cleaning and housework.

I'm bad at these things not because I'm lazy or don't want to do them; I simply don't know how. I'm trying to learn — I really like clean things — but, with Mom around, I never had to worry.

Mom and Dad moved to Guilderland from Brooklyn a couple of years ago, but her health had degraded so much that we could never do the many fun things I had been hoping we'd do when my parents finally moved up here. You know, the free concerts, the nature trails, the museums, etc. — the many rich and varied activities that make the Capital District such an appealing place to live.

Mom hadn't felt good for a long time, and, when you don't feel good, you don't have any enthusiasm to do anything. I can sympathize because I'm the same way.

The irony is that Mom was always such a strong person. She never needed to see a doctor her whole life until the last few years, but, when she finally needed a doctor, she needed several.

She had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD (breathing problems), heart issues (including a stent), and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Combine all that with being almost 80 years old and I know it shouldn't be a surprise that she's gone, but it still hurts so much.

I don't know if all Italian mothers have anxiety issues, but my mom had them all her life. A good example is when I moved upstate from Brooklyn. I had some clothes, some record albums, and not much else, yet she insisted I rent a large U-Haul truck for the move. When my friends came to help me unload, they said they'd never seen such a large truck for so little stuff. Yet that's what she wanted to make sure I'd be safe.

The other day, we put Mom on hospice care. In case you don't know, hospice is a great program — my lovely wife Charlotte volunteers for them — and we felt really good that Mom was going to get some great care, but it was not to be. That very same night, we had to decide whether to let her die at home or bring her to a hospital.

Since it happened so fast, we chose the hospital, and that's where my mother gave me her last lesson. I know now I'm going to fill out a health-care proxy with the orders “Do not resuscitate.” Trust me, you don't want to be connected to machines at the end; it's much better to go peacefully. I can thank my mom for making that abundantly clear to me and the rest of my family who were at her bedside.

My mom loved her family — including her husband of 60 years, Frank, and her three boys — more than anything. I could share a zillion stories about Mom but I'll limit it to just one.

When I was around 8, I was in a department store, wheeling a shopping cart, with my little brother in the child’s seat. I was heading for the checkout line when I accidentally bumped the lady in front of me with the cart.

This lady then yelled at me in a very loud and mean fashion. At that point, I saw a side of my normally calm and docile mother that I'd never seen before, as she let that lady have it up and down and every way from Sunday for yelling at her young child.

That's when I knew she would always "have my back," as we say in Brooklyn. How lucky I and my brothers are to have had such a great mom.

Life is nothing more than one decision after another. It occurs to me that, when I asked myself, "What would mom think of this?" before making a decision, I invariably made the best choices. Too bad I didn't do that much more often.

Still, she was so, so proud of me. If you'd seen her lately, you may have noticed how fat her purse was. That's because she'd cut out all my columns and stick them in there to read and show off to friends. When I say I lost my biggest fan, I'm not kidding at all.

Let me take this moment to thank everyone reading this and the rest of the Capital District for being so nice to my parents from the moment they moved to Guilderland. I warned them that, as true Brooklynites, they would find it very different living up here rather than in the big city. They used to complain that it was too quiet up here, but, after a while, they admitted that they should have moved here much sooner.

The best was when they'd tell so many stories of random acts of kindness that all of you did for them, from little things like giving directions to helping inflate their tires. Little acts of kindness that we upstaters take for granted but that get lost in the hustle and bustle of the big city.

It made me so proud to be a Capital District resident every time they'd tell me one of these stories. Again, thank you for your kindness. It is so much appreciated.

Now we have to make sure Dad can find a way to move on without the love of his life. It won't be easy, certainly, but maybe, like Ringo, he'll get by with a little help from his friends.

Dealing with apnea: “Sleeping with what looks like a small dryer vent hose on your face is not something that you get used to easily,” says Frank L. Palmeri. At left is the nasal-pillows CPAP  (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask, and at right is the standard nasal CPAP mask.

One time, I took my son to a Boy Scouts camping weekend aboard the USS Massachusetts, a retired battleship docked in Fall River, Massachusetts. There were about 40 boys with their fathers, including one boy who had his mother with him.

At night, we slept in hammocks hanging four high on top of each other. What is most memorable about that night was I have never heard more snoring and gas passing. The next morning, the lone woman parent said to us, "I don't know how your wives sleep with you guys."

Back then, I just figured that's what guys do when they sleep. I even thought I was "above" all of that. But over the years my lovely wife let me know that I did indeed snore.

For a long time, I didn't believe her; I mean, you can't hear yourself snoring. So I just blew her off about this, until she started throwing the term "sleep apnea" around. Then my doctor confirmed that sleep apnea — stopping breathing while sleeping, associated with loud snoring — is a real condition that can be very unhealthy if not outright dangerous.

For a long time, I'd been getting tired throughout the day. I just wrote this off to getting older, but it turns out it's one of the main symptoms of sleep apnea. What happens is your airway gets blocked while sleeping, then you stop breathing for a while until you snort or snore and then wake up.

This constant sleep and wake-up cycle ruins your deep sleep and you get tired throughout the day. There's more to sleep apnea than this, but this is the gist of it.

I resisted this diagnosis for a long time. I've got enough to worry about without adding what you'd think would be the most simple and natural thing like sleeping to the mix. But I finally realized my wife was right (she almost always is) so I agreed to go to a sleep study. Yes, they really do study you while you sleep.

You get to the sleep study center around 8 p.m., and they walk you through the process. Basically, they wire you up with sensors all over your body and then watch you all night as you sleep.

If it sounds odd, it's because it is. The sensors truly go all over your body — on your head, your chest and back, and then down your pants to get to your legs. I move around a lot when I sleep, and, at one point, I yanked the sleep monitor machine right off the night table. If there's ever an application that should use Bluetooth (short-range wireless communications), this is it.

The room was nicely decorated, the temperature was comfortable, and it was very quiet. When I finished reading my book, I shouted out that I was ready for bed (yes, they really are watching and listening in an almost Orwellian fashion) and then it was off to sleep.

I don't remember sleeping all that well that night — I know I had to call out once to have them unhook me so I could use the bathroom — but, when the results came back a week later, it turned out I did have mild sleep apnea. As my wife suspected, it was indeed more than just snoring. I really hate it when she's always right.

So now I had to go to a second sleep study, where I would be fitted with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine on a trial basis. To me, this is like something out of science fiction.

It involves having to sleep with a mask on your face. The mask has a flexible hose attached to it, connected to a machine that forces air up your nose while you sleep. The theory is this constant forced air keeps your airway open so you don't snore or snort and then stop breathing and wake up; therefore, you get a good nights sleep.

Good theory but sleeping with what looks like a small dryer vent hose on your face is not something that you get used to easily, I can guarantee you that.

The night of the second sleep study with the CPAP machine was notable because I'd never had to sleep with a long hose connected to my face before. After getting hooked up and telling them I was ready to turn in (remember they're always watching and listening), I recall thinking to myself there is no way I can do this — sleeping with a miniature dryer vent hose hooked up to your nose is just too weird.

But the attendant they had on staff that night was very nice. She reminded me so much of my daughter, also a young and pretty nursing student, so I guess I was predisposed to like her. Anyway, the next thing you know it was 5 a.m., my normal waking time, and, believe it or not, I'd gotten a really refreshing sleep — the first good night’s sleep in a long time, actually. I really couldn't believe it but it is what it is.

Of course, we are always our own worst enemies, so I fought and resisted using a CPAP machine for a long, long time, despite my wife begging me to try it. What finally got me over the hump was hearing that some of my fellow Iron Butt Association motorcycle riding friends (very tough, long-distance motorcycle riders) actually swear by their CPAP machines and won't go a night without using one, even when they're on the road.

Now these guys and gals often ride mile after mile, hour after hour, for day after day after day. If CPAP is good enough for them, then it's surely good enough for me.

When I first got the CPAP machine, the mask I had was the kind that fits tightly over your nose. With this type of mask, it's very easy to break the seal if you sleep on your stomach or side like I prefer to do.

For the first week or two, it was hit or miss if I could even get through the night while wearing the darn thing. Then I found out about a different kind of mask called a "nasal pillow." This kind of mask consists of two outlets that fit tightly to your nostrils.

I know it sounds awful and looks quite painful, but it's kind of like those ugly Croc rubber shoes. They look ugly but feel great. That's how it was with the nasal pillow mask for me.

With this one, I can sleep almost any way I want, and I rarely have to adjust it. There is also a full face mask that covers your nose and mouth, for those who can't keep their mouth closed while sleeping.

With this one on, you look like a psycho-maniac killer from one of those slasher movies. Who would have ever thought there'd ever be something that would make an ice hockey goalie mask look stylish.   

Don't get the idea that it's all peaches and cream, however, even with the much better fitting mask. I still have to make sure I sleep in such a way that my nose is not touching the pillow, and I constantly have to watch out lest I pinch or wrap the hose around me.

Then there is the dry mouth you get if you let your mouth open even a little while sleeping. You may think you know what dry mouth is, but there is nothing, trust me, nothing like CPAP dry mouth. Imagine your entire mouth and tongue covered with 60-grit silicon-oxide sandpaper — the kind of sandpaper they use to do rough bodywork on cars. That's what CPAP dry mouth is like.

The sleep machine I have silently connects to the doctor’s office using wireless phone technology. It lets them know how many nights and for how long I use the machine, and whether or not I suffer any mask air leaks or even wake up during the night.

The fact that I'm being monitored this way during a very private act like sleeping in my own bed really creeps me out. Yet the results have been nothing short of positive.

They even send regular congratulatory emails to keep me motivated since, statistically, about half the folks who try CPAP give it up for whatever reason. They tell you if you can stick it out for three months you'll eventually get used to it. It's been three months for me and I must admit I'm less tired throughout the day, but having what looks like an elephant’s trunk on my face all night is quite a price to pay for sleep, I think.

A kind of side benefit of CPAP — at least some might consider it a benefit — is that you can't really talk once you turn the machine on. The air pushing up your nose and out your mouth simply doesn't allow it. So no more late night arguments for me! There's always a silver lining in the darkest cloud, you just have to look for it.

All kidding aside, my wife is of course happy that I'm sleeping better, but her biggest benefit is she doesn't have to listen to me snoring anymore. As I said, I've never been able to hear myself snore so I don't know what she's missing, but one time I was camping in a rustic cabin with a buddy. He snored so loudly the glass panes in the windows were rattling.

It was like a heavy freight train was passing through — all night long. If my snoring is even half as bad as this I can see why my wife is elated.

Still, despite its many benefits, I really don't like sleeping with a dryer vent hose stuck on my face, so I did research some other options. One thing you can get is a mouth fixture to hold your lower jaw forward.

This is custom-made by a dentist, and, while not as effective as CPAP, it can work for some people. It's rather pricey (what medical thing is not pricey) so I've not delved into it. I hope I'll just get used to the CPAP machine and then that will be it. We'll have to see how it goes.

You'd like to think that something simple like sleeping could be done the way it always has but not anymore, especially if, like me, you snore or have sleep apnea. The good thing about having a CPAP mask is you won't have to look for something odd to wear on Halloween anymore.

On the plus side, it is really good to not be tired throughout the day. A lot of car accidents are caused by drivers’ nodding off, so, if you suspect you might have sleep apnea, be sure to tell your doctor.

Wearing a mask that makes you look like an elephant when you go to bed is uncomfortable no matter how you slice it, but it's still way better than a potentially devastating car accident caused by nodding off while driving. Plus, elephants are kind of cute, aren't they?

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