Friday, December 28, 2007

That About Wraps it Up for 2007

And not a moment too soon.

It isn't that the year has been entirely bad, not at all. It's just that I'm ready for something fresh, something no one has ruined yet; a virgin year, if you will. After your average New Year's Eve party, there'll be very little virginity left, generally speaking, but that's not my personal problem. Nor will it be nine months from now, when those persons' "personal problem" has gotten a lot more personal. This just goes to prove once again that drinking impairs good judgment. Also, it makes you forget or not care that you left something important in the glove compartment of your car. Even though you're in the back seat.

Once again, not my personal problem. I don't go out on New Year's Eve, and haven't for many years. Partly, I want to avoid those people who've been drinking, whose judgment has been impaired, who have forgotten important things, and are trying to drive from the back seat while they're busy doing something else. I don't drink, anyway, and there's a limited amount of fun sitting around watching other people get smashed. Especially since I don't have a video camera, with the which I might make a profit on the evening. The Small Business Administration seems to think that this enterprise is unworthy of a loan. I say, they've never looked at the Internet.

As always, I look back on the year with mixed feelings. Certainly, it was a landmark year in many respects: My spouse and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I went to my 30th high school reunion, and my daughter just graduated from college. These are all fine, wonderful things.

That make me feel old.

"You're only as old as you feel!", younger people cheerily claim. That's part of the problem. Take a lesson from the Eye Wit, my friends, and take the extended warranty out on your body. I feel a lot older at the end of 2007 than I did at the beginning. And why is this? Hair greying? Yes, but only about 20% so far, and it's not falling out, hooray. Wrinkles? Really haven't any, I stay out of the sun, since I come from a long line of pasty, white people. No, it's internal systems that are the culprit, and I kind of only have myself to blame. I managed to get in two plays and the annual Christmas program this year. All well and good; great, in fact. Both plays were a lot of fun and turned out very well. What more could one ask?

Glad you asked.

The first one was Godspell, a bit of a surprise to find myself in. It was a sort of left-handed deal and I got drafted, but this was fine. Until opening night, when I (playing the Judas part) ran out to do a bit of betraying, and bent my knee decidedly sideways. For those of you who did not take Anatomy by Braille as I did, let me point out that the knee is not meant to go that way. Alas, I spent the rest of the run in a knee brace and in a good degree of pain. Small wonder, as it turned out; I'd torn the meniscus cartilage in that knee. This required arthroscopic surgery, which went very well, and I can't say enough good things about the practice that performed it except that anesthesiologist and his cryptic billing practices. Prognosis: Back to nearly normal in a month, and in about six months, I'd supposedly never realize that anything was ever wrong.

So it might have been.

But then, I got into this other play. Deceptive thing it was, too; on reading it, it seemed a lot easier to do that it turned out to be. Oh, it wasn't the pratfalls that were the problem; I've had plenty of practice falling down, since I am one of the least graceful people I know. No, it was the part where I was jumping up & down because I couldn't get my trousers off to have some hot sex with my co-star (on stage, you perverts). Later, I had to hop on that one leg several times. All of this was inadvisable, since the healing process hadn't completed. I didn't know it at the time, but shortly after the play closed, my knee caught up with me, and has been going downhill ever since. That tends to make one walk funny.

So, I limp (not without some embarrassment) back to the orthopedic surgeon's office to see what the deal is. That was this last Wednesday, and I'll be heading for an MRI on Monday.... because it seems like I've torn some more cartilage, but in a different area this time. This will likely lead to some more surgery, and I might get back to normal (if I'm careful this time) right about the time that it will have been a year since I did the play that injured it the first time.

So, there you are. My knee is going to cost me an entire year of pain and inconvenience, not to mention the money. I'd like to convince myself that it's just the knee, but since the thing is connected to the rest of my body, it's hard to deny that the rest of it isn't as old as it is. While at a doctor visit last October, he was ordering up some routine annual blood tests, and began to talk about what we'd be doing when I'm 50. Thanks very much, but that isn't for another two years and I'd rather not talk or think about it. Sure, it's hysterically funny that my brother turned 50 this year, but let's keep our perspective in focus. I do not want a colonoscopy, Sam I Am, I'd rather have green eggs and spam.

So, there you have my chief complaint about 2007: Time marched on. I don't care if it's perfectly natural or the order of the universe; I got dragged along with it this time, and I'm a bit testy about it. OK, OK, I'm going to have to start being more careful and remember that not only will I break more easily now, it'll probably never be the same if I do.

Maybe I should start acting my age.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Change Your Perspective, Change Your Day

Well, the Wit has been awfully busy the last couple of months, but will soon resume the festivities here.

In the meantime....

This is not usually the kind of thing I do here, but it so happens that some friends sent me links to three videos (about 5-6 minutes each) that really made a difference to me today. My thanks to them for lifting my spirits.

First, watch this one:

Next, this one:

And finally, this one:

I thought I'd had a really bad last couple of days.... while none of them are connected to the holiday season, I find myself feeling much more celebratory.

If I don't write anything else before then, a merry & blessed Christmas & wonderful new year to all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Where You Been, Man?

A question that I often ask myself, as I sometimes fail to pay enough attention to what I'm doing.

My literary lapse, as it were, is caused by my rehearsing a play, and it's taking up most of my creative energy.... as well as my energy in general.

(More to be added later....)

Friday, August 31, 2007

BeLaboring the Point

Last year, on Labor Day, I remarked upon the utter bloody uselessness of the holiday.

This means that I have to come up with another way to mock it....

No problem.

First off, I'd like to say that if I hear one more person on TV call it "the last weekend of the summer", I'm going to do something extreme. To begin with, I live in Florida (for reasons that are not my fault), and we have nothing BUT summer here. Also, much of the nation's midsection is in the throes of a blistering heat wave, and they probably don't think it's so funny, either.... especially if they've also been "blessed" with several feet of rain. No, don't make jolly remarks about the weather, thank you very much.

Maybe if we applied some of the traditions of other, more successful holidays, we can do something to spice up this "blar" weekend.

How about a Labor Day Tree? What would that look like? Hmmm.... strings of miniature office fluorescent lights, festive ornaments with the AFL/CIO logo, union labels, tinsel made from the "Do Not Cross" tape of picket lines....

Sounds ghastly.

Borrow from St. Patrick's Day and get roaring drunk? Nah, too many people are doing that anyway.

Maybe we could treat it like Valentine's Day, and give loving little cards to all the working people we encounter in our lives, letting them know how much we appreciate them. That might be a good idea for some that you know; hopefully, it's a lot. However, it would get spoiled by some overly egalitarian crusader who will, like a grade school teacher, insist that everyone gets one so no one's feelings are hurt. Well, forget it. Kenny, who manages to keep his job at the McD's drive-through for reasons that escape me, NEVER gets an order right. I don't like him and I'm not giving him a card pretending that I do. I might jot him some wishes on a napkin for him, but the twerp always forgets to put any in the bag.

This isn't working at all.

Go door-to-door and demand goodies while issuing a veiled threat of vandalism? No, that's impractical. All they'd have to give out is barbecue, because everyone barbecues on Labor Day weekend because that's what you're supposed to do because it's the last weekend of the stinking summer. I've never understood why you're "supposed" to put the barbecue away after Labor Day, as if it's tacky to grill when it's cold. I'd rather stand next to a fire when it's cold than when it's 95 degrees outside and mosquitoes are trying to vampirize me. Call me crazy. Still, it wouldn't wind up being much of a treat, because most people are relatively lame barbecuists. The food's greasy, too, and would soak through your bag and stain it, much like your trousers when you've accidentally "lost control".

This whole proposition is going rapidly downhill.

Hunt dairy products in the yard? No, I'm lactose intolerant. Set off explosives? If you have the equivalent of rednecks anywhere near you, they're doing it anyway. Have a parade? What's the point since they passed that darned ordinance forbidding nudity on the floats?

None of the options seem workable. I think what irritates me the most about the situation is that I not only march to the beat of a different drummer, I bring my own drum. How am I supposed to do something different, something counter-culture, if nobody else is doing anything special in particular?

Let's face it, Labor Day is just no fun. It's a day off with nothing to do but the same stuff you've been doing every weekend for the whole summer, on the lame argument that you'd better, since this is "the last one". Call that recreation? 'Cause I don't.

I could spend the weekend writing, work on some of those projects I'm constantly thinking up, and pop out an especially scintillating blog entry to put here.

But, forget about it. It's Labor Day. I'm not working this weekend.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Silver Lining

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day my wife and I got married.

25 years. 9,130 days. 219,120 hours. 13,147,200 minutes.

All in a row.

That's pretty impressive, eh? Evidently, it is, as we've been greeted by a plethora of reactions, ranging from hearty congratulations to jaw-dragging-on-the-ground disbelief. Then there were the few cases of outright anger. At first, we thought this might stem from jealousy, but it turned out that these were merely people who'd lost in the betting pool. Nobody will tell me how many people have predicted the demise of our marriage or when. Their main reason for this is that they don't want me "throwing the game" at just the wrong moment and secretly collecting all the money.

It isn't that I wouldn't like to have large sums of cash, it's just that you can't put that kind of price tag on some things. Besides, I don't secretly have any money in the betting pool, and inflation having been what it has over the last 25 years, however much is in there won't buy nearly as much as it once would have. Betting pool money doesn't earn any interest, either. I wonder who it is that's actually holding the money? Traditionally, it's the minister that married you, but in our case, he's a rather serious fellow who would fail to appreciate the humor. I suspect that it's my best man, since it's been terribly hard to keep track of him. Even now, I know not where he's gotten himself to. He, in fact, is on his second marriage; even so, I did badly in the pool by having picked "15 minutes". Now, in my defense, you haven't met the man, and it was my feeling that once his bride thought about it seriously, she have realized that she could've had a V8. She might've happily spent the rest of the reception sucking down Bloody Marys, but she stuck with it for a while. Too bad it didn't last, I kind of liked her. However, these things happen, betting pools or not.

In the bigger picture, marriage isn't a money-making prospect, anyway. Oh, sure, it used to be, back in more ancient days. Depending on the culture, someone would make a profit right off the bat. Most people are familiar with the process of giving a "dowry" with the bride. The word "dowry" comes from the same root word as "endowment". The bride may or may not have been well-endowed, but you hoped that her father would be. The dowry was essentially a "Here, take this money if you'll only take this girl off my hands so I can have some peace around here!" payment. The conundrum was, the higher the dowry, the worse the potential bride was. In simple economic terms, this makes perfect sense. Nobody's likely to volunteer to take that shrew home with them for less than 20,000 crowns and a lot of land. Not unless they're some testosterone-pumped cad from Verona who thinks it won't matter.

In other cultures, it was exactly the opposite; the prospective groom had to pay the "bride-price". This was his way of proving to the girl's father that he had lots of money with which to support his daughter. This proof came in the form of handing a large portion of that money over to the father for the privilege of having the bride's hand (and the rest of her, which is what the prospective groom was chiefly interested in) in marriage. Once again, simple economics ruled: The more desirable the prospective bride, the higher the bride-price was.

In our "modern" way of thinking, this is a pretty awful way to behave, because it treats women as if they're property and something to be merely bartered over, and denies the concept of true love. However, we still symbolically follow these practices; the wedding itself is by custom paid for by the bride's family. Thus we have the "dowry". The rehearsal dinner is customarily paid for by the groom's family, thus rendering a watered-down version of the "bride-price". Naturally, there's a large difference between the dollar amounts in most cases because the guy is usually getting someone who's far too good for him in the first place. The "dowry" of a really nice wedding is often much more than the slob in question deserves.

That's not to say that it doesn't go the other way, too. Some of the most astonishingly elaborate weddings I've ever been to have been to marry off a young woman to what we all agreed was a naive and unsuspecting young man. These young men make a common, yet fatal, mistake: Take a good look at the bride's mother. If she's a whining, shrill fishwife, then chances are good that the young man is going to wind up with a carbon copy before he knows what's hit him. The "fishwife" effect is what gave rise to the idiom of a woman "hooking herself a man".

The bait, of course, is the money.

However, here's where romantic love does swoop back into the picture. This young man will have friends, good and wise ones, who can see what's coming. They'll desperately try to talk him out of this crazy commitment while he can still escape relatively unharmed. Nothing for it, though; he'll steadfastly refuse, saying that it doesn't matter because he's in love with her. He's also being sucked in by the ornate ceremony replete with a string quartet; if the bride's father is going to sling around so many bucks just on the ceremony, well then, he's sure to keep giving lots of it to daddy's little girl afterwards. But I wouldn't bet on it.

This doesn't mean that nice, wonderful girls are all married in the run-down bait shop at the end of the street. Of course not; many weddings are happy, sincere, and every dollar is lovingly spent on two wonderful young people starting a life together. Such was the case with us; well, one of us was wonderful, anyway. I'm still working on it.

However, these modernized versions of the dowry and the bride-price are exactly what caused the rise of the now-ubiquitous existence of betting pools on the marriage. Both sides have a potential interest in the marriage breaking up at some point in the future. Oddly, it's the families themselves that find the greatest motivation. The groom's family, having gotten off comparatively cheaply, will invest heavily, figuring that they can make a killing and come out smelling like a wedding bouquet. The bride's family is looking to recoup the dowry-esque cost of the wedding. Most of the other bettors are people hoping to make back the cost of the wedding gift that they gave. Others are mere cynical observers who derive sadistic pleasure at the idea of peoples' most important relationships falling apart.

And it is this, this that gave rise to the tradition of unpleasant in-laws; each side is hoping to bust the marriage at just the right moment to collect the pot. The worse their behavior towards their child-in-law, the closer it is to the time they picked in the pool. It's as transparent as can be. Sisters and brothers-in-law are in on this game, usually in league with their parents. They, being younger, are more impetuous and impatient, so they start acting out much sooner because they picked an earlier date, not wanting to wait to cash in and get a piece of revenge for the incident involving their just-married sibling and the night of their own senior prom. Few things will enrage a a sibling like another sibling ratting them out to their parents about the fact that the prom couple secretly booked a hotel room for after the prom. Siblings don't forget that kind of stuff.

Who really gets the upper hand in all of this? Well, call me a romantic fool, but I'd have to go with the newly-married couple. They have the opportunity to make nearly everyone suck cheese and lose their wagers by defying them, and staying married after all. Happiness turns out to be the best revenge. No, it won't mean that the couple themselves will win the betting pool by default; that isn't the way it works. However, sometimes, they do wind up eventually collecting those bucks.

This most often comes in the form of a doting aunt, who always had faith in the couple, and took the risk of betting "Never" when asked when the marriage would go south. If you hit your golden wedding anniversary, all "Never" bets are honored by default. Thus, it is a happy occasion when an elderly aunt passes away and leaves a sudden boon of cash to the now long-lived couple. Where did the money suddenly come from? Why, it's been around for 50 years, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Tough cookies to everyone who bet against such a couple; they'll have lost their "investment", and the statute of limitations means that they won't be able to write it off on their taxes (besides, they probably long since lost their receipt).

As for me and my spouse, having made it halfway, we intend to go the distance. We love the idea of being spoilers, and collecting the spoils for ourselves. Heck, we only have to make it another 25 years.

If we haven't killed one another by now, I think our chances are pretty good. Besides, one of the best ways to screw up an entire complicated scenario such as this is to throw an unexpected monkey wrench into the works, to introduce something so illogical as to defy the very basis upon which the scenario was founded.

We call it "being in love". That's our game, and we're sticking with it. So there!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Slán, Weekly World News

It was via Craig Ferguson that the notice of the demise of my favorite tabloid came to me. Unlikely as it seems, the Earth will be a lesser place without the Weekly World News.

For those of you who are too classy to have ever associated with it (which is most of you), the Weekly World News was one of that collection of brain-draining tabloids at the checkout at the supermarket, along with such authoritative and dignified publications as the National Enquirer. Enquiring minds want to know, they say; well, I want to know why they're killing the rag that gave us Bat Boy. Yes, that's the thing that will make you remember WWN; that picture of the half-bat, half-boy staring at you in glorious black and white. That was the other unusual feature; save a few special covers, the WWN was never printed in color. There are reasons for this, good ones, too. However, they've never bothered to explain what those reasons are.

Who cares, anyway? It was the quality of the stories. Why, take the Apocalypse alone.... do you know how many times the WWN said that the Apocalypse was coming? And every single time, they said that it was coming right after next week's issue. Over and over they did that, and the vast majority of the readership never caught on; they went and bought the next week's issue to find out what time it was going to hit, so that they could get that last nail appointment in on time. Oh, but wait; who could worry about the Apocalypse when Bat Boy is on the loose again? "Besides, Marge, it says right here that the next issue is an Apocalypse Special, so I guess I misread it last week. Too bad I already lined the cat box with it."

Them people was clever.

At this point, since it's going out of business, I guess that I can give away the information that I, as a tangential insider, am privy to. Hold on to your g-strings, this is gonna be a lulu:

Most of the stories in the Weekly World News were fake. There, there, dry your calloused tears; it's best to know the truth so you can get on with your life.... such as it is, if the WWN was at its center. Then again, it could be worse; personally, I'd rather read the WWN than a "real" newspaper any day. Even the Apocalypse is less depressing than the "real" news these days.

Some of the stories were actually true; just enough to lure in those hopeful folk who could point to the article on Billy Graham (no, really, they ran a number of them) and claim that it was, too, a real newspaper.

As it happens, I myself, the Eye Wit, have twice appeared in the pages of the Weekly World News. I kid you not! Neither story had an ounce of truth to it, but that was beside the point. Not only that, I actually got paid (not much) for them to use my likeness. How did this happen? As a matter of total coincidence, I got to know a woman whose uncle was one of the senior editors. Hers was the face of Serena Sabak, the world's sexiest astrologer. She also was a photographer, and supplied them with pictures to go with the articles. Many of these were just "head shots" of either the author of the alleged article or its subject, and some were more elaborate, intended for greater things. For the head shots, it was common for her to bring her camera to parties; after people had had a few drinks was a great time to ask them to let her shoot a whole roll of face shots. If they want to use one of them, an editor calls you up to make sure that you're OK with the story it's to go with. Thus did I end up in the guise of ace Latino reporter Antonio de Maguez, who was breaking a big story on a secret plan to trade Elian Gonzalez for a shipload of genuine Cuban cigars. Absolutely scandalous! For this appearance in a national publication, I got twenty bucks.

The other time, it was a photo spread to go with a longer story. In this instance, I was Blaine Terziche, an office manager who was such a chauvinist pig, that he made all his female employees dress as cheerleaders. Every two hours, there'd be a pep rally. We shot this little gem in the evening at an office I'd worked less than a week at. For this, I got fifty bucks. They were awfully good sports there, and many of the people in the office also wound up in the WWN. Funniest among them was one of the owners, who was supposedly the commander of an international group of mercenaries who'd been thrown out of their armies because they revealed that they were homosexuals. That name of the unit? "The Gay Team". Precious! Another friend was some poor sap in Tibet who'd been molested by a female yeti (I suppose it could've been worse....).

How can they possibly put an end to this kind of fun? The articles were such a kick, the ads were from some of the "finest" companies in the U.S., and every week, there was a genuine giant crossword puzzle. What more could you ask? Profitability is no doubt what AMI (the parent company) has in mind. So now, all you'll have to select from are the "celeb" tabloids, and nothing delving into the sheer nonsensical like the venerable Weekly World News. In its history, it even spawned a stage play version of Bat Boy: The Musical. See it if you get the chance, it's hysterical.

But all of this was not enough. I suppose that when the "real" newspapers are full of so many reports of the rampant absence of truth (cross reference: Washington DC), the stylish lack of truth in the WWN just couldn't keep up anymore.

I hate reality.

Bat Boy, we're going to miss you, old friend. Even worse, my budding career as a model in a nationally-distributed publication has been cut short, perhaps never to rise again. To all you crazies behind the Weekly World News all these years, who got PAID to generate all this outlandish material, I say a warm "Thanks!" Who cares if people looked at me oddly when I bought it? It was a welcome island of lunacy, and a neat little escape from the ugliness of what's really going on, even for just a little while.

And darn it, without the Weekly World News on the story, how is the Apocalypse EVER going to get here?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Most Excellent Furry Friends

Scientists have long tried to analyze the relationship between humans and cats. They've come to all sorts of interesting conclusions.

None of which are correct.

How dare I, a mere mortal, make such a claim? Because I am a True Cat Person, and cats will only reveal that kind of information to True Cat Persons. If some bloody scientist comes along and sticks a cat under a microscope, the cat is likely to get a little testy about it. The cat will then engage in all sorts of bizarre behaviors, just to skew the scientist's data.

Cats are like that. Cats are very intelligent animals, and deviously clever when it's to their advantage. I have an excellent example, which I forget if I wrote about before; if so, here it is again.

First off, I'd like to make it clear that I blame my wife, and even she admits her culpability in this case. It stems from the fact that she can be a real sucker for cute animals. Better the luck for me, or I wouldn't have a place to live myself.

She doth protest too much that she is not a cat person, but from the day we brought our Siamese cat, Arwen, home, Arwen decided that she was my wife's cat. Sure, my wife pretended to object, but she could not resist the feline powers that were weaving a web around her. Allergy to cat dander or no (and blame or not, a big round of applause to her for the fact that I even HAVE cats. Fortunately, Oriental short-haired cats' dander is different and much less irritating). Many's the time I'd catch the cat sitting next to my wife on the sofa, with my wife absent-mindedly stroking her head. Uh-huh. This leads to an interesting question: Who decides if you're a cat person? Is it you, or is it actually the cats? I'm not sure myself.

But I digress. On to the tale of "The Ham Incident".

It all began in the morning when my wife would be making a sandwich for my daughter to take to school. Arwen would come in, meowing & purring, rubbing against her legs, begging for a piece of lunch meat. Apparently, cats eat ham in the wild, because most of them love it. Well, me spouse would turn into a complete sucker and let her have some. Before long, she was "dropping" an entire slice of lunch meat on the floor in the morning. I asked her to cut it out; my cat was getting fat. Besides, all the cats already think all food & drink in the house is for them, this only encourages them to hop up on the table when we're eating to get their fair share. Then, of course, I had my doubts that lunch meat is good for cats. You'd think so, since people eat it, but you never know. For one, cats need much more fat in their diet than we do.

Nothing for it, however, the process just kept going on, and no good could come of it.

One fine evening, we're in the living watching TV. We hear this odd rustling in the dining room, but then it stopped. This happened a couple of more times before I finally got up and went in the room and turned on the light. There, on the floor, were the two cats gleefully chowing down on a nearly full package of ham, just as nice as you please. They looked up happily, saying "Yum!", and then went back to work. I was a bit stunned, and asked who'd left the lunch meat out. It turns out that nobody did. Like I said, cats are deviously clever. Arwen had observed for months the whole routine of getting the ham (or whatever) out of the refrigerator, so the rascal knew where it was. All of us were sure that we hadn't left the refrigerator door open. So, how??

There was only one explanation: Arwen, who's quite strong, had pawed the refrigerator door open; then, astonishingly, she managed to pull the meat drawer out (it's heavy) just far enough to get her paw in, where she snagged the package of ham, dragged it out to the dining room, tore through two layers of plastic and began feasting on her prey. The other cat was only too glad to join her.

Now, that is one clever cat.

By the time we discovered this, naturally, they'd eaten through the center of every slice. Each piece of ham had a hole in it lined with cat spit. All we could do was laugh & let them finish it. Goodness knows, Arwen had worked hard enough to get it.

This was the end of the morning treats.

I bring this up to give you an idea of what a delightful pet she is. She's 13 years old now, and until recently has been very healthy. It got clear that something was wrong; she stopped eating, she was obviously in discomfort, and most telling of all, she didn't grab my lap at every opportunity. She's so stealthy & light on her feet that I'll suddenly notice her there & not realize that she'd jumped up, stepped in & curled up. She was losing weight fast. I got her in to see the vet this morning, and a good thing I did. She has a kidney infection, which can be lethal to a cat, especially an older one. I know too bitterly well, for that's exactly what killed Arwen's partner in The Ham Incident. She was too far gone by the time we realized that she needed to see the veterinarian.

This time, however, we caught it before it got that far. My poor kitty had dropped down to 6.8 pounds from a healthy 11, but her system is still pretty strong & she should recover with the treatment program.

The very expensive treatment program.

I wrote the check, knowing that my spouse would be none too happy about the amount, but what could I do? We'll manage, and Arwen should live many more years.

Many people would ask "Why the fuss over just a pet?" Cats aren't just pets to a lot of people; they're genuine friends. Dogs like everybody, but cats don't. If they like you, or love you, it's because they choose to. Mine are especially important to me, because I went through a long-term illness, and they were my constant & attentive companions. They know when I'm not feeling good, and are extra solicitous then. They sat with me, cuddled, purred, made me get their toys & play with them, because it was a welcome distraction & they knew it. I'm not making it up, and I'm sure you can find many people who could tell you a similar story.

So, how can I not look after them when they don't feel well? As independent as your average Siamese can be, Arwen is not at all diffident and the most communicative of my cats. Good thing; she gave me enough signals to notice that she needed help. She might not consider it such a great idea as I shove her antibiotic pill down her mouth twice each day for a while, but she's so good, she even sits pretty still for that. She is, by all accounts, a Most Excellent Furry.

I have to take her in every day for the rest of this week so they can give her fluids (that accounted for a portion of the weight loss, she was dehydrated), and then we have more blood work done on Friday. My vet feels very confident that all will be well. She & the technician were quite impressed with the relationship between my cat & I. Even at the vet, where she's afraid to go, as long as I was holding or petting her? A loud purr.

Few sounds are more comforting and soothing than a cat's purring. I'm glad that I'll be hearing lots more of her purring in the future. In fact, at the thought of it, I feel a purr coming on myself.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Explanation Defied Again.... and Again.... and AGAIN!

There are some scams that are so widespread, and allegedly so well-known to be wildebeest droppings that it seems that it has become impossible, in this modern day, for anybody to be loopy enough to fall for them.

You'd think so. In fact, in most cases, the attempt looks so far-fetched, so beyond the pale, so superlatively superlative as to cause you to disbelieve it in less time than it takes to realize that you've once again left the house wearing no pants, that it's January, and you're in Mammoth Falls, Minnesota.

Or some other kind of circumstance. Though, oddly, that particular scenario rings true to most people, even those from equatorial Africa. And thus we come to the scam in question: The infamous "Nigerian Scam". Lately, I'm getting five times as many of these pieces of drek in my e-mail than usual. This, in spite of the fact that people should be more aware of its falsehood than ever, particularly in light of the relatively recent arrest of a person in, shall we say, a position of high financial responsibility, who lost $1.5 million in government funds falling for this idiocy. How can this possibly happen??

Let's take it straight from the horse's butt.... herein I'm copying an actual, honest-to-Pete-Best "Nigerian Scam" e-mail that I just got, exactly as it appeared:

From: "hamed alii"

FROM HAMED ALIDear FriendI am Hamed Ali personal Assistant to the Branch Manager of Bank Of Africa(BOA)Ouagadougou Burkina Faso I want to inquire from you if you can handle this transactionfor mutual benefits/life opportunity for you and me.The transaction is about seeking your consent to present you as the next of kin/ beneficiary of the US$15Million dollars who is a customer to the bank where i work.He died with his family during their vacation journeyIn that regard, i decided to seek your consent for this prospective opportunity.Have it at the back of your mind, that the transaction does not involve any risk and does not need much engagement from you, since i am familiar withthis kind of transaction being an insider.I have resolved to offer you 30% of the total fund, 10% for sundry expenses that maybe incurred during the process of executing this transaction and 60% percent forNecessary modalities will be worked out to enable us carry out the fund claim under a legitimate will give you more details about the transaction when I receive your responsevia my email address.Thanks and God bless.MR HAMED ALI

Please, in the name of all that's holy, if this makes sense to you and sounds like an honest person and a great idea, get professional help immediately. OK, big deal, they switched it to another country than Nigeria, but this is the classic pattern that's been going around the world since they invented clay tablets and cuneiform. Even the Rosetta Stone was not immune, a fact that's been kept a secret to this day by a cabal of embarrassed academics who fell for it shortly after the Stone was discovered. Even the Stone's age failed to deter them from believing that they, indeed, were the luckiest people ever to have been chosen for such an important task. Of course, they'll ask you for "good faith" money to the tune of thousands of dollars, or they'll "phish" for all your personal information, steal your identity, and render you into a pariah that not even Dennis Kucinich's campaign staff would take on.

Either way, if you do it, YOU'RE AN IDIOT!!! I think we can all agree on this, yes?

And yet.... every year, large numbers of people around the world DO fall for it, and unfortunately, a high percentage of them are senior citizens who lose their life's savings. I'm not in any way implying that our senior citizens are stupid, but these kind of people prey on them because, I think, they're generally a lot nicer and more inclined to trust others than we ever-more-cynical generations following. Go ahead, ask any "senior" if the following generations are more crude, less refined, and five times as rude and rarely listen to their own mother and couldn't you get off your duff and call your mother this week, would it kill you?

But, I digress.

Nonetheless, even I'M starting to say that about younger generations, and that's a bad, bad sign. Partly because I'm admitting that there are a few generations behind mine (the venerable Baby Boomers), and partly because of the fact that I'm not all that polite myself. Sometimes. How often? I refuse to say, on advice from my cat.

By the way, my cat's too smart to fall for this con game, too.

So, what's to be done? As Lazarus Long once so wisely said: "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." Evidently, it's going to continue, along with the too-good-to-be-true UK lottery gag and the phony bank auditor game. None of it's funny, and I've pondered on it, trying to figure out why that is; why do otherwise sensible-seeming people fall for something that violates a very sensible rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! That should be an axiom applicable to almost everything in life. Salvation is a fortunate exception; it sounds too good to be true, but IS. Fortunately, God is a nicer guy than you, me, or the geniuses running these con games.

I have a theory, and I'm putting this out in front of you for general discussion, recussion and whatever other kinds of cussin' seem appropriate. I don't think that it's because any of these "stories" they sell are convincing. No, I think the people who fall for it do so because they want to believe it! Why on earth would they do that? Maybe it comes down to the last effort to preserve their battered sanity. In a world where we're dead certain of so many things going impossibly wrong (cross reference: Any newspaper), they have a desperate need to believe in something, just one thing that's impossibly "right". And for those few critical moments, they do.

I'm not sure what the solution there is, if any, to this effect, other than a couple of things I try to remember:

-We could do a lot better job of looking out for one another.

-Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

The latter, someone being nice for no apparent reason nor for their personal gain, always catches people by surprise. And maybe, just maybe, the surprise that you choose to put out into the world will BE that one impossibly right thing that someone really needs.

And when you do (several times a day, I hope), someone, somewhere in Nigeria will curse your wretchedly nice name.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Death to the Foul Beastie!!

The deed has been done. The "patient" has been pronounced dead. All of the evidence has been disposed of.

Sorry, not referring to any person whom you've written me about, begging me to get rid of for you. I'm not in that sort of business. At least, not publicly. What, I'd come out & say I take contracts on a blog?

Contracts, yes, but only for artistic performance and such.

Yes, the Bashing of the Shed is a done deal, and if you'd like to see a progressive series of photos of mindless violence, you can click here:

Bashing of the Shed

You can click them individually, or view them as a slide show.

There ain't no denying it, destroying something every now & then is just plain fun. It's best if it's something you own. If not, my advice is to not get caught.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fourth Right

The problem with making a beginning here is that I used up a lot of my schtick about the Fourth of July last year.

Yet, there's no denying that a lot of this is very familiar, old & tired. Three whole flags on my street; fireworks already starting to go off, mainly of the illegal variety.

On general principle, I don't overly object. There's little I can do about it anyway, and besides, I am not going outside and venting my spleen about "those darn kids". For one reason, that's an inescapable sign of getting old, and I'm still working really hard on the denial front. Mainly, however, the reason is that it's adults that are firing them off. Civil disobedience in the name of civic pride, or so they claim. What do they really know about civil disobedience? I'll bet I could hand out a Thoreau quiz and they'd fail utterly.

But, I digress, and fairly early on at that.

In fact, it had been a firm tradition of ours that a family that's friends with ours would get together each year, and my buddy & I would personally do a lot of reprehensible things with stuff that goes boom in the night. My personal specialty was the "chain reaction", in which you use a series of sparklers to set off M-80s and bottle rockets, etc. However, this whole soiree has been ruined by our children, who had the audacity and discourtesy to go and grow up on us. I don't actually see why this prevents the rest of us in engaging in juvenile behavior, but we haven't gotten together for the last few years. Disappointing.

Yet, perhaps unavoidable. I have a rare nerve condition called allodynia, which I'm sure you've never heard of. While any of the five senses can be involved, in my case, I'm hypersensitive to light and sound. What seem like fairly ordinary levels of light or sound to you cause me intense pain. There's currently no treatment for it, and all I can do is wear hearing protectors and dark glasses, or other defensive measures. Therefore, messing with things that burn very brightly and make lots of boom-boom don't seem as attractive to me these days. The one good thing about that is that I can blame the condition, and nobody can accuse me of dropping out because I'm too old to have fun. Then again, having some weird condition means that you miss out on the same amount of fun, so in the end, it isn't really better. On a day-to-day basis, I can't tell you what a nuisance it is.

I digress again.

Well, at least there was some celebration this year, of sorts. My church did a musical presentation, all patriotic and such, which saluted the concept of freedom and thanked members of the armed forces, past & present. I and my fledgling drama group provided the narration. It went pretty well, too. I was surprised at the number of people who came to see it when we did it on the Fourth. Well, it's on a Wednesday this year, and nothing else made much sense. The choir, orchestra & soloists were faboo, as well as the narrating corps (I did some of it, too), and the multimedia element was pretty good stuff, too. Yeah, it's all hip now to have projections of video, photos & animation while you're over there working hard to keep their attention on you and what you're doing. After I caught a glimpse of the Vietnam memorial on it, I quit looking. I know more of the names on that thing than I like to think about.

This whole post is random digression. I'm afraid you'll just have to bear with me; I might find a point to all this somewhere.

So, I make my way home and it's only a matter of time before I have to put my hearing protectors on while inside my house. Yep, the ears are that sensitive. So I've decided to start in on a book on CD that a friend gave me at the reunion (sure, I'll eventually get around to writing about that), since I can wear the ear buds under the head set. Studious and serious shall I be on the evening of the Fourth, and glad that I'm not out amongst the drunk drivers (that isn't age talking, it's just common sense).

As for what other people will be thinking, I couldn't say. My spouse is busily making ice cream at the moment (before you say anything, it is better than your mother's) for my daughter's get-together of Young Persons who are far better behaved at that age range than I ever was. There'll be no drugs, no drinking and no other illicit behavior, save some of the aforementioned not-legal-in-this-state-like-they-enforce-it-anyway fireworks, which will be supervised by a responsible adult, which is ludicrous since my daughter is 23.

The thing that fascinates us is that while we did our best to raise her to be a good person, she's a far better person than we can account for. We don't object, of course, we just wonder how in the zarking fardwarks that happened? Well, she does have an excellent group of friends, and is exceptionally kind, and we're not daft enough to interfere with it.

We don't need the Fourth of July to celebrate that; we do that every day. Looking at this large group of young people who are such good young persons gives one some hope that in some future, they'll have made this country into something more worth celebrating on the Fourth of July. We're making an awful lot of mistakes these days and I don't feel that we're headed in the right direction. However, it's good to have the privilege to observe a group of people who may be far wiser than our generation and cling more to the original ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Hope is a good thing to have.

That's how it all started, isn't it? The Declaration.... the Constitution.... they point to an enduring hope for something better than what we have now. We'll never get to Utopia, but the journey itself is honorable and worthwhile.

It's dark outside, and time to take the flag in. I got it years ago in the name of my daughter; it's certified to have flown over the Capitol Building in Washington. When she flies the coop, it's hers to take with her.

I take some pride in knowing that whatever she does, and wherever she goes, she'll do right by it and make a contribution towards a better world. She can't help herself. Of all the things that we've ever done to make this a better country and a better world, I think that she's by far the greatest.

Long may she wave.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Obligatory Blog Post

Sometimes, I feel like I really should put up a blog post.... but I don't particularly have a topic.

Such is the case at the moment. Then again, I seldom let a lack of coherence stop me from writing about anything else. Why change now? I have no good reason to do that either.

And there you are: People feel too compelled to have a good reason to do things.

Sure, you're compelled to have a job (most of you, I suppose) since you want frivolous things like food and a roof over your head. Some of you even buy clothes. There are a few that don't that I sincerely wish would, but I haven't the heart to tell them. Actually, it's just that I haven't found THE most snide way to put it to them, and I have my standards, after all. Admittedly, not very many and most of them are low (below the belt), but I have some.... written down.... around here somewhere.

Outside of life's necessities, and even during them, there's a remarkable tendency to do things the way people expect you to; to say what one would not be surprised to hear such an one as you say. I can't think of a single good reason for this. Where's the style, where's the originality in that? How much inane boredom can a person take? When someone asks you "How are you this morning?", is it actually required for you to give them a straight answer? Instead of saying "Fine." when it isn't true, come up with a metaphor or simile that will make them think and respect you. Something like "I'm as defenestrated as a stale bagel".

Right off, they have to head to the dictionary, because chances are good that they don't know that "defenestrate" means to throw something out of an upper-story window. It's a great word. So now, you've done them the service of stimulating their mind first thing in the morning (kudos to you if they're not a "morning person". I myself am so bad in that respect that I am immune to all vocabulary before at least 10:00) and creatively telling them that you're not so great. If you're a stale bagel, you're already feeling pretty bad about yourself; being thrown out of a window is rubbing salt in the wound. At best, someone will pick you up and throw you in a refuse container next to some dog fewmets from the park in a leaky bag from Kroger's, where someone actually, for once, cleaned up after their dog. That sounds pretty awful, but it isn't as bad as being chowed down upon by a Chow Chow, and eventually becoming dog fewmets.

So, when you tell your office mate that, in effect, you feel like you're on the verge of becoming dog fewmets, you've darn well answered the question with considerable style. Does that make you better than they are, because they asked such a normal question in such an unimaginative fashion? Yes. Yes, it does.

This is more difficult at social events, where the question may be more metaphysical, more probing, more than just a drive-by check of your existential angst. In these cases, it's a lot of fun to use what I call "The Dangling Rebound". An example: A person strolls up to you at a cocktail party, having not seen you in six weeks, three days, 8 hours and an odd number of minutes. She asks "How are things going?" You, instead of replying with some banal syllable like "Fine.", fire back "Well, you know how it is...." Of course she doesn't know how it is, that's why she just asked you. The upshot of the situation is that she cannot, without looking slightly foolish, come back and say that she doesn't, and repeat the question. Personally, I pick that ball up and run with it, and jab back with something akin to "Have you stopped taking your medication, then?" Imagine yourself on the receiving end of that one. It sounds bad if you say "Yes" because you're 1) Admitting that you were on medication, and 2) saying that you were dumb enough to stop doing what your board-certified physician swutting well told you to do. If you say "No", then you're still admitting that you need medication.

What's wrong with taking medication? Nothing at all, of course. I myself rattle when I walk due to the plethora of pills that I inhale each day. The thing is, there are rules about where you can discuss medication safely, and where admitting to taking medication is an abominable breach of etiquette. Cocktail parties are one of those places. You don't need to be revealing things about what drugs you're taking, because that vodka-kiwi juice martini in your hand is a drug, and your co-conversant knows that. At a cocktail party, it's a given that you're allowed to presume, without any justifiable reason, that the medication in question should never, never be mixed with alcohol. Thus, having pinned the poor victim down with the medication question, you can now put on an air of high dudgeon and glare at them sternly for being so foolish. Either way.

Is this necessary? No. Is it fair? Depends on who ends up hanging on the end of the rope, unable to speak further, and obliged to shuffle away and find some nice "normal" person to talk to. You don't want this to be you! Weird them out forthrightly and with panache! They'll need considerable chutzpah to try to keep up with you. This, they will be unable to do, for they cannot now answer something like "Fine." to the question "How are you doing?" because they have the same crestfallen look as a defenestrated bagel. Even a "normal" person knows the rules there; they are then entitled to kick you while you're down because you patently lied. This is a bit bizarre, considering that 88% of all conversation at a cocktail party is lies, especially where matters sexual are involved. That doesn't matter in this case. If you've made the dread mistake of picking your wife to shuffle back to, then she's allowed to dredge things back up like that time ten years ago when you washed her underwear in with some red exercise sweats and turned them pink. Never mind that she's the one who left them rolled up in there where you couldn't have seen them, never mind that nobody but you, her and Wee Willie Winkie ever see that underwear, never mind that it cost $3.09 at Wal-Mart. By law in 49 of the 50 states (in Louisiana, under the Napoleonic Code, women are forbidden to wear underwear), she is allowed to scream at you like a Gloucester fishwife, causing you more embarrassment than that time you mistakenly took the sauna at your boss's house for an unusually warm powder room.

Is there anything to be learned from all of this? Indeed, there are at least two:

1) Never get so drunk at your boss's house that you can inadvertently ruin $2,000 worth of imported cedar. Nothing good will come of it.
2) Never give your wife such an easy target. She'll bring up the underwear every time, and do you really need to have all your co-workers see you get dressed down over some now-fossilized unmentionables, which have now been ironically mentioned at the top of your wife's lungs?

In fact, the best advice may be to avoid cocktail parties altogether. The rules are terribly complex, and you can probably do without the alcohol, anyway. Besides, if you happen to run into someone such as myself, who is a terminal wise guy, you're going to wind up being that poor slob with the underwear being thrown in his face.

Knowing that, is it completely necessary that I set this tragic set of circumstances in motion?

Unfortunately, yes. Those are the rules.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Lack of Suspense Is Killing Me

It almost always starts off with some chick running through the woods at night.

This is not a problem, as most people like chicks. I know I do. Nine times out of ten, the young woman is a brunette (heaven forbid they knock off a blonde first) and lightly built, so as not to give herself a couple of black eyes before she gets killed. Naturally, we get only the briefest glimpse of the monster or cranky Avon saleslady who'll be terrorizing us (or not) for the rest of the film or TV show.

We fall for this crap over, and over, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. I don't think the introduction, as such, scares anyone anymore. Even my cat can't be bothered to stop licking its butt long enough to get caught up in it, scary music stings and all. "Get to the monster already!" people have cried for years. Only then would we deign to be scared, and only if the monster was good. This, too, has gone the way of all rotting flesh, and for a couple of major reasons: One, the bloody (sic) sequels. The "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the Thirteenth" series add up to around fifty movies. How frightening can Freddie be anymore? Two, thanks to computer graphics, they can now create anything that the mind can conceive, and we've been using them up at a rapid pace. The above films introduced unbridled gore and blood; now, we have explicitly detailed monsters and mayhem. This reached its artistic peak in the original "Jurassic Park", when the T-Rex smashed a restroom and chomped a lawyer right off of the can and ate him. Oh, how we cheered! Unfortunately, after that, the shark had been jumped.

No, there's simply a limit to what the special effects can sell. I hate to be picky, but have you pimply-eyed boys (I know what I said) in that dark room with your computers considered contacting a writer (hint hint) and inserting, say, an actual story? Scary movies aren't scary anymore, so they've resorted to other things to sell tickets:

-Sex. Duh.
-Wit and humor. Snappy dialogue. Defiant humor. Suggesting that the monster use some mouthwash, for God's sake.
-Getting us to sympathize with the monster instead of the people, most of whom deserve what they get, because they're lawyers or something.

OK, this will hold up for a while, until we hit the day when a movie comes out that has a scene where the monster breaks into a bedroom at a very inopportune moment, where a couple of lawyers are getting it on, the woman looks up and says "I don't do threesomes" and they get eaten.

You people have filthy minds, I was not going there.

I wonder if, at some point when nobody is making any money off these beastly horror movies, someone recall the existence of something called "the suspense movie". Hitchcock. That sort of thing. It's what you don't know and can't see that's most terrifying. Modern horror flicks simply give us too much information for them to have any mystery about them. It isn't that it hasn't been tried in recent years. Brilliant Internet marketing aside, and whatever you may have thought of it, "The Blair Witch Project" was not a monster flick at all; it was a suspense film. We never got to see what was after them (Those of us who know about such things knew that it was a wibawa). Thus, the blood-and-gore (not Al) addicted college crowd who were in the audience when I saw it actually booed it at the end. Clearly, they were expecting some slashing and a lot of fake blood (which is cheap and easy to make). Not this time, kids; the filmmakers clearly meant to leave you with as many questions as the characters had when they got offed.

How bad have things gotten? As an example, the SciFi channel has this evening descended to the depths of showing something called "Ice Spiders". Quod erat demonstrandum.

Until things improve, the nice brunette running through the woods is going to have to get shredded, fried or disintegrated by herself. If she had any sense, she wouldn't be running through the woods in the dark in the first place. I'm going to be watching the History Channel instead, where things might not make much more sense, but at they have the novelty of having actually happened. However, even that will wear off after a while. Why?

Because history repeats itself.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

All Eyes Are On....

If I hear that phrase ONE MORE TIME from a meteorologist talking about a tropical storm or a hurricane, I'm going to scream.

I'm going to be doing a lot of screaming.

Last Friday was the official start of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, and just to make it official, we had a tropical storm around town: Barry. Now, I won't say anything bad about Barry, as it brought us some desperately-needed rain. We've been under drought conditions for a long time, and there have been wildfires burning in southern Georgia and all over Florida, to the extent that we've had unhealthful air warnings due to smoke. During this time, these same TV weather people, who go ape trying to scare the crap out of us during the hurricane season on the slightest excuse, were saying that "we sure could use a tropical storm to make up for the rain shortfall".

That was actually a fair assessment, even if it sounds illogical to those of you not in Hurricane Alley.

Ah, but let June 1 roll around, and the same boring old cliches are brought out, the same stock footage, and the exact same recordings of emergency officials saying what people should do. However, lots of people don't do anything at all, even when a serious storm threat is hanging over our area. There are a number of possible reasons for this:

-They're just plain stupid.
-They think "it can't/won't happen here". See the above.
-They're under the impression that using masking tape forming an "X" on their windows will somehow shield them from 100 mph winds. See the first entry.
-They can't afford to, or are not physically able to. There are quite a number of people who fall into this category, and practically nobody says or does anything about it. The public officials who allow this to continue? See the first entry.
-They're sure that they can get all the supplies and do all the work at the very last minute. Once again, see the first entry.

I could go on (and keep on referring to the first entry), but what I'm driving at is this: The TV weather people have got a lot to answer for, because they're boring millions of people to tears with the same old drek every time a storm comes up. They're so bored, in fact, that they've been lulled into an inactive stupor. Who needs an entire summer of reruns when lives are at stake?

Am I being hypercritical? Probably, but hyperbole is almost always funnier than reality.

Can't they inject a little more personal style and individuality to all this 24/7 coverage? And how about some brutal honesty? That would keep people guessing. Change the usual verbal exchanges and video, and it'd be a lot more likely to make an impression on people.

For example:

Instead of saying: "People who choose not to evacuate in time may find themselves stranded."
How about: "If these people don't get off this barrier island NOW, they're frigging well going to DIE, Jim. Maybe they deserve to, if they have so little sense."

Now, THAT'S brutally honest. Mind you, islanders are strange and stubborn people; I ought to know, but at least Aquidneck Island is big, with plenty of safe spots, not like some barrier island whose apex is two feet above sea level. Still, this might save a few lives, and any number saved is good.

Now, what about the poor fools that they have stationed around various points where the storm may strike, standing outside to report conditions. I do kind of like that, as you can directly see how it would be if you were stupid enough to be standing out there unprotected. Oh, I wouldn't do it, but I'm still curious. I think that they should be allowed to be more blunt and less professional, and to complain bitterly that they have to do this in order to keep their jobs. Clearly, these people have no union. "The winds have gotten up to 65 mph, and the rain is flaying skin from my face. I am SO going to sue the station. Nobody should be out here, so screw you guys, I'm going home." Not so polite, but it does at least demonstrate that anyone with sense would not be outside with a swutting video camera, recording the carnage as it happens. They know no better because the news people are enablers, with their crews outside. Well, then, it must be safe for us, eh? Let's cut this crap out right now.

Naturally, there'll always be private individuals out there with cameras and video, and the TV people might as well point out that some of them are going to get killed. "Linda, he's standing too close to where the waves are breaking- oh, there he goes. What an idiot!" There's a term for this process: "Natural selection". You! Out of the gene pool, NOW!

Lastly, let's get a hold of the IT professionals who are constantly tweaking the computer programs used to make the forecasters' visual displays and lock them in a Chuck E. Cheese somewhere. I don't need to see sixteen different versions of the radar image, just show me where the stupid storm is! Show us the eye, rain, wind speed, and direction, and leave us alone with all the other flashing colors. People are having seizures out here.

Besides, among all their other bad thinking, the weather people are missing out on a money-making opportunity. They're always revising the forecast, especially about when & where the storm will make landfall. You know good and well that they have a betting pool going at the station on this, so why not let the public in on it? Charge five bucks a guess, lie like crazy about how many people entered, pay the winner and keep the "overhead" for yourself.

Mostly, pray that there won't be another Katrina. But for heaven's sake, prepare as if there will be, and that it's going to come your way. Oh, you can count on the TV weather people to be all over the place, but as for a major rescue response? Keep in mind who's in the White House. Then refer way back up to the first entry on the list of explanations above. It does seem to apply to a lot of people, doesn't it?

Monday, May 28, 2007

On Remembrance

Does anyone remember that today is the official observance of Memorial Day? How many have any recollection as to what it's about, other than sales, the beach, barbecue, the "first weekend of the summer" and the Indy 500?

Damned few, apparently.

Collectively, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

However, there'll be little shame shown; the only thing that there'll be less of is honor paid to the subjects of the holiday, which are veterans of this country's armed forces who've died in the line of duty. Secondarily, it's to honor those currently serving as well. Veterans Day was not originally called that; it was Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I. Now, it's supposed to be in honor of all veterans from all eras.

But back to the Memorial Day for members of our armed forces who died in the line of duty, and including members who served, while not dying in the line of duty, who are no longer with us. That's what they taught me in school, anyway; I still remember that. I'm also prompted by the memory that my grandfather, a World War I veteran, died on Memorial Day in 1971. Now it includes my father, who had twenty one years of active service in the Navy, including two tours in the Viet Nam area. Granted, he was a dentist & therefore a non-combatant, but that doesn't mean he wasn't in a position to get shot at & killed. He was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, and would go up in a plane as regulations required if he wanted to have "flight surgeon" status. It wasn't a matter of status, he did it because there was a pay bonus and he had a family back home. Fortunately, no MiG ever paid a visit while he was up there. He passed away several years ago, near Memorial Day.

I'll always remember the burial service for a lot of reasons, but one of them was the full military honors he received as he was interred in a lovely veterans section of the cemetery in which he lies. The playing of Taps, the rifle salute.... and then, they took the shells of the rounds fired for the salute, and wrapped them in the flag that had covered the coffin, and presented it to my mother. The attending commander of the detail (a woman, incidentally. My father would probably have found that a bit odd) then gave a short speech on behalf of the Commander in Chief, thanking her & the family for his service to our country. Simple, yet dignified and to the point. It also recognizes in this time of grieving that it isn't only veterans that sacrifice, but their families as well. For one lost in combat or otherwise in the line of duty, it's a life cut short; the ultimate price paid, which is supposed to be in defense of our country and our freedom. But even during peacetime, families are regularly uprooted, moved around, and sent along with the service member to new locations. Most of us who are children of a military family have no "home town", we've left our best friends behind multiple times only to have time and distance cause many of them to fade away, and we've changed school systems repeatedly. It's not an easy way to grow up.

Well, that's a price, too, and one that's most often ignored these days except when yet another death from Iraq is reported. In past years, it was primarily wives who found themselves having to take on the jobs of both parents when their husbands were on assignment or out at sea (this, of course, has greatly changed, but not in my parents' generation). Families of submariners might be out of direct contact with their service member for as long as eighteen months. Memorial Day is a day we should stop and pay honor to the families, too. Military spouses and children have always been a part of the service in their own way, being the most direct supporters of the individuals in the service, and going where the country has told them to go.

It's true that I've described a number of reasons why Memorial Day is more personal to me than a lot of people, but that is not the way it should be. We're all the beneficiaries of the sacrifices and the service, so how dare we take it so lightly? And yet, the newspaper today is full of sales flyers and blather about summer, and vacations, and the price of gas (which, incidentally, was $1.46 a gallon on January 20, 2001. You figure it out). I had to look on page three of the local section to find any mention of Memorial Day observances. There are no parades scheduled, no speeches, no large solemnities. No ceremonies at any of the national cemeteries in the area. No, in the two county area, there are exactly three things listed: A small memorial service held by this county's Veterans Council, another in the neighboring county held by the VFW, and one concert. And that's all. It gets more dismal: I took a drive up & down the eight-block-long street on which we live. I didn't count the actual number of houses, but it's around fifty or so. The number of houses, including mine, flying an American flag today:


That seems pretty representative of the prevailing attitude these days.

Don't misunderstand me, I am not a flag-waving, no-questions-asked ultraconservative who gives support blindly; quite the contrary. However, I do know when respect has been earned and should be paid. I am an opponent of the war in Iraq and no supporter of the man who started it under false pretenses. Nonetheless, not for one minute will I disregard the service and the price that has, is being, and is unfortunately will continue to be paid there by members of our military and their families. I also won't forget the number of innocent Iraqis who've died. Contrary to what the administration would have us believe, there are lots of innocents dying there. "Collateral damage", indeed; the term is vulgar and distasteful.

So, before I digress too much farther, as is my usual wont, Id ask of you to please take at least a few moments to remember those who've died in the line of duty for our country, those who served and were therefore always at risk, and the families left behind. It's not so much to ask, and this is supposed to be the day that we all do it together. As a nation, we've utterly failed in this capacity. If nothing else, think of what it would mean to the families in your community that have lost someone in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who have a loved one there and wake up every morning hoping to God not to have that knock on the door by an officer from their branch of the service bearing grim news. Can we not have the decency to demonstrate that we care? Or does the problem lie in the fact that we largely don't care? That's a point that I'd rather not give myself time to think about.

Instead, I'll think about my mother, who will travel to the local cemetery today for a visit, with perhaps some fresh flowers or something to plant. I'd go with her, but there's this 1,100 mile distance in between. She'll act as proxy for myself and my other siblings who are far removed. Thanks, Mom.

And thanks, Dad, and all the others who are the titular honorees of Memorial Day. Thanks to everyone who remembers and has done at least something (as simple as flying a flag that costs less than ten dollars, pole included) to show that they do.

To the rest of you, enjoy your long weekend.... and when July 4th rolls around, and you come out to have a good time once again on the day that we observe the founding of this country and the principles upon which it is supposed to rest, take a look back over your shoulder and feel a pang of regret that on the day that you should have remembered the people who paid the price to get those freedoms and keep them, that you let them down.

Taps hasn't been sounded yet, however; there's still a bit of the day left. Take a moment and remember, and do not take for granted the fact:

They never let you down.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Unavoidable Inevitable

Time is a royal pain; it's a pain in several prominent places, which I need not mention, and the more time that passes, the more places upon which it inflicts pain.

Now, in theory, this is perfectly alright (though I'd like to know according to exactly who) because it's happening to everyone else at the same time and at the same rate. On a practical basis, we know that this is nonsense. Clearly, time affects some people more than others, or, at the very least, it sure seems to hit some faster than others.

In a month, this will be demonstrated aptly. Though I should like to deny it, that's when my 30th high school reunion will be taking place. Mind you, I'm not actually old enough for that to be the case; simply put, time has ravaged me less than a lot of the others, to which I can attest based on my observations at the 25th reunion.

At this point, everyone might as well throw in the towel. Face it, friends, you've lost all the weight you're going to lose (if you were trying), you can't get a new toupee in time, getting a real tan (as opposed to those awful bronzing products, which turn your skin a color that screams "Carrot Top") is out of the question, and all that dental work you've been putting off is beyond your reach. The window for plastic surgery has been slammed shut, which isn't going to help those arthritic fingers. The best you're going to be able to do is to get your hair colored, and at our age, the cosmetic lie is both gratuitous and obvious.

Look, everyone is going to feel like they're under a microscope and that every little flaw and telltale sign of age will be lit up like a whored-up Christmas tree. Let me put everyone's mind at ease and settle this question right now: Suck it up, it's true. Of course they'll notice! The majority of the memories that we all carry of one another are, uh, of a fine vintage. Personally speaking, I think some of us look a lot better now. I might even say so to some of those people. But not all of them, because deep down inside, warping my perspective and sense of reason on the issue, I'll be jealous and angry.

Then again, I have my own advantages with which to coddle myself, to engage in a sense of denial and convince myself that they far outweigh the less-than-desirable changes that have occurred over the years. The fact that I still have all my hair will upset a lot of guys. No, I'm skipping the dye job. It's about 15% grey, and I can live with it. Women tell me it looks "distinguished", and for the sake of vanity, I choose to believe them. Since I avoid the sun like the plague (unless wearing SPF 2000 sunscreen), I have no wrinkles on my face. That'll hack off a lot of the women, who will regret the sun-worship of their youth. What else? Uh, reach for it.... no arthritis, though it would be a terribly low blow to mock someone for it, and even I won't stoop that low. I'll be among the approximately 27% who've never been divorced, and to my great relief at this point in my life, I don't have grandchildren yet, which I know that some of my former classmates do. You cannot avoid being grown-up and expected to act like it if you have grandchildren. Thanks, I'll be glad to wait.

Forgive me if I choose not to dwell on my "debit" qualities, but that's what denial is all about, isn't it? I just hope things don't devolve into uncharitable comparisons of what everyone has "achieved in life". This isn't fair because life is not fair, and nobody should be looked down on because they haven't had any of the lucky breaks that others have. It's also a mistake to interpret another person's life goals in terms of your own. You can't presume to know what makes another person tick; hell, I don't even know what makes me tick.

Actually, that isn't true. However, some of my proudest achievements on Maslow's pyramidic hierarchy won't make sense to most people, and I'm at a loss for an effective way to explain a lot of it. Fortunately, there's always the excuse that I'm an artist, and artists are legally exempt from having to explain themselves.

No, I intend to have a good time, and try my best not to worry about what other people think about me. Besides, some of my energy will be spent tracking down members of the reunion committee, as I've a bone or two to pick with them. It's faboo that they've taken the initiative, time, and expended the energy to arrange the reunion, and I give them their due kudos for it. However, the theme of this reunion is Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise". Would that I were making it up. At least I won't have to worry about dressing nicely (a thing I hate to do); the official garb is cargo shorts, flip-flops, and Hawaiian shirts (the latter I have yet to find). And therein lies my last advantage where inevitable comparisons are concerned:

I do have pretty nice legs.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Bad, Bad Sign

In my all-too-distant last installment, we learned once again the irritating lesson that one must be careful when having fun.

I don't remember any of us asking to be taught the lesson again, let alone me.

The good news is, the operation went exceedingly well, and let me just say that the people at Coastal Orthopedics are the best. Here's a place that's everything you want a medical practice to be. They got me prepped, and only used a local anesthetic (thank goodness), so I was able to sit up & watch the whole thing on the same monitor the surgeon was using.

For those of you who were just sent cringing at the mere thought of it, don't be such a bunch of wimps. It's really cool! Then again, as a former pre-med major, I suppose my point of view isn't typical. Surprise.

In order to create a sterile area, they did have to screen the knee itself out of my field of vision, so I didn't get to see the doctor actually sticking the scope into my leg and moving it around and all that. Sure, I'd have watched that, too. Dammit, a lot of money was being paid for this deal, and every bit of entertainment should possible should be had out of it. However, since the insurance company was footing the knee bill, I had a real leg up on enjoying the whole thing.

I deeply apologize for that last sentence.

OK, no, I don't. Let's not digress.

So, here's what the damaged cartilage looked like:

You can see where the surgeon has conveniently labeled the tear, which is the fluffy-looking part. Everything you see that looks like that is supposed to be nice & smooth, like this:

So, in goes the various cutting tools (that's right, cutting tools! And indeed, there are sounds akin to those of a power drill) to cut, snip and smooth the torn area out. Yes, I'm now missing some cartilage, but after this procedure, it will heal much, much faster and do so much more cleanly. In the old days before "scoping" joints, it would've taken a nasty incision and a lot of time to heal, not to mention the physical therapy. Here's the result after the repairs were made:

Much better. Reasonably speaking, I think anyone can see how much easier it will be for the joint to work until it fully regenerates.

How much easier? Lemme tell ya!

I was left with exactly two, one-loop stitches. Granted that I was on painkillers for a while, but I was able to get up & move on it that night. In a couple of days, I could walk somewhat normally, without a brace, and without other assistance much of the time. In a week, I'm walking pretty well. Phase down off the painkillers (and honestly, I don't know why people like them so much. Other than doing their job, I find the side effects very unpleasant), and continue to improve.

So, today, a mere thirteen days after surgery, I went for my follow-up visit. I walked in quite comfortably, had my stitches removed, and everything was as it should be. Out I walked again, NO physical therapy needed. I'm told that in another two weeks, I'll hardly know that it ever happened. At this point, kids, I'm a believer.

It was doing so well last Saturday night, that I freely participated in the ritual Shed Bashing. Yep, we really did invite a bunch of people over for a party, during which we took turns destroying the shed with various and sundry instruments of mess destruction. I put my knee brace on just in case (as swinging a sixteen-pound sledgehammer does involve a lateral sway), and bashed to my heart's content. The Bashing will be the subject of the next post, complete with pictures.

So, after such a glowing report, what's the bad part? Well, many of the party guests weren't aware that I'd even hurt myself (thanks for staying in touch, guys), so I was compelled by circumstance to tell the story several times. Here's the catch: I caught myself referring to it as "my latest operation".


According to the stereotype, only old people go around telling people about their latest operation. It isn't a horrible thing that I've had enough operations to refer to my "latest" (I'm very fortunate; I got the care I needed when many cannot); it's just that actually doing so is a flaw in my mentality. Didn't I just go through an entire play and a lot of keen rationalization in recent posts to prove that I'm not "too old"?? I don't know what to say about it, except.

Ouch. Again.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thems Are the Breaks

One of the thrills of live performance is, of course, not knowing exactly what's going to happen next. Ideally, it's the audience that gets surprised, not you.

However, that bastard Murphy has been everywhere, including the world of theatre, where he is no more welcome than Don Imus is on the Rutgers campus.

Now, Godspell is a very active show, even athletic at times. The cast is practically always on the move, and energetically so. You can't schlep your way through it. I'm happy to say that ours was a schlepless production. In very few shows have I gotten to act, sing, dance, play guitar, do a few impressions and assorted odd voices. I had a great time. But....

Why does there always have to be a "But...."?

All that moving around was just fine in rehearsal, but when you get to dress rehearsals & performances, things change. A couple of these may be, for instance, the surface you're working on and the shoes you're wearing. This is where I ran into trouble. On a number of places, I was blocked (the theatre term for "where in the zark am I supposed to be right now?") to be off the front of the stage in the space in front of the audience. All well and good, I've had my shots. Ah, but an important difference: the stage was a wooden floor, whereas the front area was carpet.

The thing about wearing athletic shoes as part of your costume is that while they're comfortable and give you a great deal of control on the wood floor, they behave a lot differently on carpet. In the heat of the battle, when once more going into the breach, it's easy to overlook little things like that.

On the Tuesday before our Thursday opening, I was stepping off of an 18 inch cube in the front area, with the intention of going over to the place I was supposed to be next ("You're zarking well supposed to be over here!"). I meant to pivot on my right foot as I swung my left down to follow. No deal; my right foot, at the moment bearing all my weight, didn't pivot. It stuck in place on the carpet. As a result, my right knee got twisted in a way it's not designed to. Knees, in fact, in the event that you hadn't noticed nor read in the manual, aren't intended to twist at all. Thus did I pick up a nasty sprain, but one cannot let such things keep the show from going on. We have a cliche to uphold.

OK, so the stupid thing hurt, but I resolved to be more careful, and I succeeded admirably. Until opening night. Since I was playing Judas, at some point you just know that I have to run out and do some betraying. You can't rewrite stuff like that. Well, my blocking called for me to jump off the stage and run the zark out the back of the auditorium via an aisle. The jump? No problem. Starting to run? Hey, I was on the carpet by then, and as had been previously proven, the traction was almost unholy. A tad ironic when doing Godspell, but let that pass. I had to go around the same cube I'd injured myself on before, and cut about a 20-degree-angled turn to the right to zip my way up the aisle.

I used to be on the track team & ran cross-country, I know darn well how to avoid an obstacle and execute a turn while running: You come down on the foot that's to the side you're turning to, pivot on it while the other foot comes down, then push off of the first foot to move in the new direction. As a matter of unhappy circumstance, this was the same foot that had caused me to injure my knee before, on the grounds that it loved the carpet so very well, it couldn't bring itself to move and allow me to.... pivot.

At a dead run, it didn't prove to be any different.

So, when I went to make the turn, my momentum carried my body weight to the left, and severely bent my poor right knee in that direction. In that moment, I knew that I had zarking well zarked the zark out of that knee, but I managed to get out the back anyway. I hope nobody noticed the limp when I came back in to do the actual betraying. Listen, if I'm portraying Judas in the very moment of betraying Jesus and you're noticing the way I walk, I'm doing something very, very wrong.

Pain. Pain became known to me in a very personal way. The next day, I bought one of those really beastly knee braces that has metal hinges on the sides, so I wouldn't do it again. Or, if I did, the forces of nature would have to get past cold, hard steel. That worked OK, and while it didn't relieve the pain, it allowed me to get through the business of the rest of the performances on the main run. Great. We had a two week break before the last, special performance (that's very unusual). In this two weeks, did the knee get any better, like a sprain should? Nope, not one little bit. However, I got through the last performance without too much difficulty. It hurt, though.

Now, by an incredible coincidence, I had an appointment with my orthopedist the next day. Why? To follow up on the problem with my shoulder. I'd been through physical therapy, trying to stave off surgery which we'll eventually have to do, due to joint impingement. This, we accomplished, and jointly decided that although it's not 100%, it's livable for now. The next time it locks up, we operate. Fine. Cool. Then I pointed to the brace on my leg, and said "Could we talk about this knee?" I related my tragic story, and while it didn't move him to tears, he showed adequate concern. We did an X-ray. "Hmmm, that doesn't look particularly good. We'd better get an MRI done." We set it up for the very next day (amazing, ain't it?), and he promised to call me himself with the results, and we'd go from there.

This is all very swank, since this practice is well known as the best in the area. My knee's in good hands.

My orthopedist did call (No, really!), and it figures that the news isn't especially good. I have a pretty significant tear of the meniscus cartilage in my right knee, so guess who's headed to surgery? So, April 17 it is (again, unbelievably quickly). The good news is, I can put weight on it quite soon afterwards, be significantly better in a week, and supposedly completely normal in a month. That's just in time for my high school reunion, although "completely normal" isn't a phrase you normally associate with me. This is arthroscopic surgery, so relatively simple & non-traumatic. In some ways, it beats the other theory, which was a severe sprain; those can take forever to normalize. Nah, gimme the quick fix. Then it'll probably be back for my third round of physical therapy inside the last 10 months. Fortunately, they're fairly jolly people, even if they do wear so much black studded leather.

Not for the first time, I wished I'd taken the extended warranty on this stupid body.

Initially, I'd worried that perhaps I was a bit too old to be doing Godspell. As it turns out, I was not too old. At least, most of me. Apparently, my right knee was too old, and now I shall have to pay the price. All I can say now is: