Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays.....

Several weeks back Jake lost 2 days of school due to head lice. I learned a lot about them over those days, used an expensive head kit (which didn't work) and a cheap home remedy recommended by the Pharmacist (which did--put mayonaise in the hair, cover with a shower cap for one hour!). I swore if it happened again I'd get his hair cut to a buzz, and now I'm having to think about it!!!
Whenever he touches his scalp I ask if he's itching, he dodged the question more than usual today so I checked it and @$#&&$ if he doesn't have them again. #&*$*%#!!!
I checked his hair several times after the first infestation and it was defintely clear, so this is a recent infestation. We had him for Christmas until 2 days ago, and I guess he got it from the kid he was with for two consecutive sleepovers the last 2 nights at his dad's house. Frustrating? is not a sufficient word for my anger and desperation. Mostly because of all the stuff that needs to be done here to quell this thing, and then after that I can't speak for what happens at his dad's house. I guess I'll keep him with me until his dad does the laundry and bedclothes, and I've already told Jake the sleepovers are done with.
When somebody in the house has head lice, everybody's head itches--psychomatically. I guess my hair is short enough that they have not attacked me, and easily solved if they did because these particular lice only live in head hair, a very specific target, and i can shave that easily. No, it's Sheila I worry about, that would be a task and a half to clear, even though she cut her hair shorter than I've ever seen. So far, no problem, keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yes Brandon, there is a Santa Claus

Just to be clear, what follows is a true 'Christmas" story:
Wow, am I out of practice talking to 9 year olds! If I was ever any good at it, I think it left me at about the same time as my 32 inch waist.
Everybody knows my current situation, housebound caregiver etc; Jacob lives with his dad most of the time and we get him Friday nights, which is the exact opposite of the old arrangement prior to Sheila's accident. Until now, that is, because school is out and neither us nor Jacob's dad can afford full day child care, so he stays with us full-time until 5 January. The other day he asked for a sleepover, which is inappropriate due to Sheila's situation, not just from a privacy point of view but because I can't give proper attention. But to be honest, I just don't want the responsibility of a overnighter with a strange kid. In the end I agreed to a "play date"lasting from 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM. That's how I met Brandon, Jake's best, 2nd, or 3rd best friend depending on the weather, or some other caprice. Brandon is big for his age, in a rotund way, but quiet, generally pleasant and impeccably polite. As happens, there was a fight between them in Jake's room over a nerf dart, and I tried to intervene but Jacob was already extremely upset and stormed off, ostensibly (I later found out) to walk to his dad's house 7 miles north in Wachesaw.
I asked Brandon why he was not cooperating with Jake over the dart, i.e., why would he let things escalate as they did. Well, there is no logic to escalation even when adults practice it, so that was a dead end. Since Jake was outside, and clearly not wanting to hang out with Brandon, I thought it best to have Brandon watch TV with me in the living room, lest he start having designs on the copper wiring in the wall sockets or something.
All was quiet for a while, but after a few minutes of Dexter's Lab, Brandon shifted uncomfortably on the floor and without looking at me, said "there's something I've been wanting to ask." I put down my magazine, and not knowing what to expect, I just said "ask away."
"I've been wondering if Santa claus is real," he said. "I asked my mom and she just said 'if you don't believe, you don't receive.'"
OK, that was a nifty retort from "mom" (I wish I'd thought of that years ago), but I was in wonder of what to say next to a stranger's kid on the cusp of the "real Santa dilemma."
In a split second, I thought of the old Virginia story, of telling an outright lie, and also if it would be wrong to be truthful; I decided it was best to say "well, I believe in Santa." I told myself it was true in that every time we give, we live the spirit of Santa. Fortunately it was enough, we then went on to why you can't be awake when santa comes, how he fell aleep in front of the tree one Christmas eve and woke up in bed, and so on.
Later it occured to me how isolated our kids have become when they resort to asking a relative stranger about something that troubles them so. Do they trust adults when they get dodgy stories about the Tooth Fairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny, do they come to know adults will lie to them about certain things?
I don't know if it's wrong to promulgate these things, I always thought not. I was aghast when I learned the Linnes (across the lake in Gwinn, MI) always told their kids the stuff under the tree was from mom and dad. I recall Bev Linne was downright adamant the kids would by God know she bought that stuff, and not some fat trespasser dressed in red. I only know it didn't hurt me when I found out, and I didn't hate my parents for stringing me along.
In any case, that question means we are probably having the last wonder and awe-filled Christmas in this house, and it is sad in its departure.
So, until the next round of rug rats in the unending cycle, we will put out the last plate of cookies tomorrow night, and hope it all goes well.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Pavements of Summer

Much has been said about using up our non-renewable energy resources, and there is an angry contingent who are quite militant about using solar, wind, geothermal, bio-fuel and ocean since they are "renewable." But read up, and you will find out those technologies do not reasonably hold promise of meeting all our needs, probably ever. Global warming aside for the moment, seems like some combination of a plentiful resource(s), renewable resources, improved power transmission through superconductivity, and reducing our needs (improved living designs? Mass die-off? Civilization collapse? It could happen) is our true future.
A bleak concept, but some studies have been conducted with rats that show that popultion tends to correct itself sooner or later. We know, for example, what happens to deer populations, now that we've damaged their natural predator numbers, if we don't intervene before winter. Disease, famine, higher mortality, lower fertility, all these things can happen quickly and devastatingly. That stress number may be quite high for humans, but certainly, there is a number.
The US is blessed with lots of coal, about 250 years at current use levels; of course that time frame will shrink as we figure out how to sub coal for other sources over time, as well as continuing to grow our populace for demand. A common advertisement likes to tell us there is no hope for "clean coal" energy production.
We already know oil is a dead end, and maybe scarily so.
Nuclear is always an option, with the caveats of indestructable toxins, terror attack risk, and possible WMD proliferation (no matter what you've heard, ANY nuclear reactor can be configured to produce Plutonium).
The various renewable sources will become cheaper, but creating them in the first place carries its own pollution price tag. Exotic elements, production technologies, transportation, all will add to the earth-burden. Perhaps most disappointing, bio-fuel diverts a huge amount of bio-mass from food production.
Architecture solutions include better use of insulation, natural lighting, botanical enhancements (like shade), and so on. The payback for socalled passive improvements is sometimes modest in comparison to the cost of including them.
But something we used to do automatically, but not so much any more, is include sidewalks in our new subdivisions. These, along with bikepaths, will become the pavement of choice when weather is nice and transportion costs become more like last summer than currently. A recent History Channel special on the nature and finite supply of crude oil made a comment that really resonates in our current situation; "to see what our future will look like, we need only look at our past." A future without oil would look like the horse and buggy days, and how many people will that support?
I see a future where the average person does many more daily transportation and maintenance tasks using people-power, and I think we need to start putting in sidewalks and bikepaths NOW!

Friday, December 12, 2008


Finally a sunny day. Zach s here and we are trying to go through the oldest stuff in the Stephens household, and it's slow going. But eventually we will have our garage back. The stuff of a lifetime--I can only say to the young, purge as you go--paperwork and nic-nacs add up very quick.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holy smoke, I just noted a big disconnect...

My last post included what I thought was an accurate story about my parents' early years, but something happened that made me realize I have a gap about which I know nothing. Turns out in this case at least, my knowledge of my family history may be a series of anecdotes that in a final analysis, don't agree with each other. Here's my story:
Yesterday I took Sheila to her neurologist, and encountered one of those occasional situations you find at a doctor's office, the chatty older person. I happened to make eye contact with a woman a little older than me, maybe 65ish, when she stretched in her chair. I kind of knew what was coming, she asked me if I was a local. I said no, I grew up in the Washington DC area, and she said she had too. I thought it would be nice to compare stories so I asked what part of Washington and sure enough, it was the last thing I said for the next 10-15 minutes while she told me about her childhood in Washington. Seriously, I heard how her parents met, how strict they were, how their technique worked for her kids, and then she started on how nice her dad was and literally was giving me a chronology of his activities starting immediately post WW I. When the doctor finally called for Sheila, the lady was getting to WII. I started to get up and the lady would not stop talking--awkward! I had to just leave, with a hasty "nice talking with you," and I felt bad, but you don't keep the doc waiting. Something she said about her family moving to DC made me realize something I knew but did not connect with what I had recently put in my blog.
I know I was born in Queens, New York, and that my family moved from there to the Georgetown address I mentioned in the last blog when I was 6 months old, according to my mother. So it follows my folks met in New York City, and my dad's business must have been there and not DC, and my mom could not have been working in the Pentagon yet. Even though I always knew I was born in queens, I always thought everything I knew about mom and dad started in DC! Big disconnect. So, I'm thinking hard, and I believe my mom told me dad's flooring business was in DC--he must have started it after he left New York, and I don't know and probably never will what the heck either of them did in New York. Worse, mom was a WAVE, a Naval officer in WWII, and I always thought she worked in the DC area and there was contiguous service in the Pentagon until she left when I was an older kid. Obviously, wrong.
The only one left of my parents relatives is my dad's sister, who must be 85 now, and we haven't been in touch in a long time. I have to give some thought to calling the cousins and connecting with them, maybe there is still some knowledge to be gained...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Brush with History

My daughter asked why she didn't know I had met Hubert H. Humphrey (the original Triple H!) so I included that in the comments on the previous blog. I think though, that all my kids know this story:
In 1952, my dad was doing well as a flooring contractor in Washington DC, where he met my mom, who worked in the Pentagon. The first place they lived together was a row house in Georgetown, apparently in a nice area where congressmen and women had second homes while congress was in session. Though mom didn't drive, once she had a taxi drive my sister and me by it so we could see where it was. She told me she used to see a young Senator John Kennedy and his wife Jackie stroll Caroline around in a baby carriage occasionally, since they lived just around the corner from us. Neat, I know, but I always found it more interesting that our next door neighbor was Senator Everett Dirkson. He was a very important and visible member of Congress when I was young, but I remembered him most because he had ridiculous messy (along the lines of Albert Einstein), shocking white hair. He was in the news all the time.
My mom, as did many women of her generation, practically worshipped Jackie O, so I heard about her a lot. When JFK was assassinated, all 4 TV channels in Washington (yes, there were only 4 in '63, and they signed off the air around midnight) did 3 solid days of non-stop coverage, and my mom cried continuously. It is one of my strongest memories.

Friday, November 14, 2008

To know them is to love them

A post-election article in today's local paper prompts this entry. It was titled "No Truce Between Miller and Kelso." I don't know why it's news that after the election the candidates don't always bury the hatchet.
Due to being in the military and, quite frankly, never feeling like I really belonged anywhere I've lived, I don't usually get into local politics. This last election was an exception, partly because it was"so important." I made an effort to learn about our South Carolina US Congressional seat, and ended up voting for the one who distorted his/her opponent's positions the least (unfortunately, we lost).
I also went so far as to look into the local state congressional seat, the contest between Jill Kelso (R) and Vida Miller (D), the incumbent. I really could not find out much about them, there was no detaled background online. So I decided to vote for Kelso for no other reason than that I was registered Republican and in general, agree with what Republicans are SUPPOSED to be doing--weak, I know, but a fallback position nontheless.
Anyway, something unexpected happened. While I was in the 2 hour line to vote, I met Vida Miller. She just happened to vote in the exact same precinct as me. That precinct includes all of Charleston, so you can see what the chances were she voted at the local Library. She came down the line, shook our hands and said thanks for voting. I was careful to see if she did anything to win our vote, which is of course illegal, but she did not. Now while I was waiting in line, I got to thinking, she's not so bad. She is one of 3 politicians I've actually met, the other 2 being Hubert Humphrey and George H.W. Bush. I have to say, just to meet these people in person is incredibly persuasive--I guess you get a little star struck. I bet if you are around these people all the time you become inured to that effect. It's a shame, really, that we all can't meet all the candidates for races we vote in. Maybe we could compare that charisma presence thing and then dismiss it.
BTW, I'm not telling who I voted for in the local race. Suffice to say, Miller won though it was close.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What am I doing here?

There are only a few of you seeing this because I'm embarrased at the silliness that sometimes comes through--I am, after all, late middle-aged, or is it early-old?
I am asked if I'm borrowing stuff, telling personal stories, etc. Maybe I should label the stuff? So far I've complained, joked, complained some more, wrote stream of consciousness, tried poetry, short story, and odes to things like Halloween and Veteran's Day. Also tried embedding a picture, which if you click on it becomes huge on my computer and pretty cool. That picture BTW was taken from the Hypermarket parking lot in Muscat, Capital of Oman. There are very rarely clouds in Oman so this was special, I took a bunch, this one was typical.
Anyway, all this is stuff in my head, I am just experimenting, and I am pleased to get your feedback if you like. I set this thing to send an e-mail when I post something, if you want I can stop that. I don't know what I will do next, still thinking on it.

Take care!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Flanders Fields

Veteran's Day is nearly over, and many events marked its passing this year. It is personally gratifying that people are thankful for those who served and are serving, even in unpopular wars. "Unpopular wars" is a funny term--did you know there were antiwar activists even after Pearl Harbor? Many didn't think it should have caused us to go to war with Germany and Italy. There will always be those who think there is a peaceful solution to any conflict, but I say history is proof positive we can't always turn the other cheek. The American Fighting Man and Woman elects to serve the country, it is up to our civilian leadership to correctly use the precious resource of our youth.
Movies and TV news have proven powerful at bringing the horror of war into the living room, but then, you can turn it off and reflect on what it all means in peace and quiet. The soldier in the foxhole can only pray for it to be over, it doesn't turn off when he's had enough. You can't rewind and do it over when you charge up a hill in flying-metal hell.
In my 30 years of service, I was never really in immediate danger of death, never in a running battle or fire-fight. I don't really know how I'd do in those circumstances. Yet, something in me boils over and connects me with all who served when I read a simple poem, written after an unimaginable carnage by someone who somehow survived.
I invite you to read it at this URL:

This never fails to wrench my heart and bring on the tears, even though I've only seen the fields in pictures. I wonder if it can have the same effect on someone who has never served?
If we lost these things, who would we be?

Monday, November 10, 2008


Catalogs, bills, magazines and a small package addressed to Mr. Bill Pearson; crammed unconveniently into the Monday morning mail.
With coffee in hand, I dismissed the detritus of suburban home ownership and concentrated on the plain brown box. Inside, a tube of some substance, and a card that read:
"Congratulations, Mr Pearson, you have been chosen to receive a test sample of this miraculous new product that guarantees a life-changing experience. All you have to do is rub a small amount on the back of your neck each morning, and you will be perceived very differently by the people around you. After you try the product, send us back this feedback card with your comments." It had a return address, it read simply: "Depeshit, Oregon."
On the tube, the only word: Depeshit.
"What are you reading?" barked the wife, adorned in housecoat, cucumber facemask, and evil.
"Uh...well... this stuff is Depeshit," I answered.
"Oh. OK. Like I wouldn't understand, huh? You can't bother to tell me because it's 'deep'. You're an ass Bill."
True, I did not bother. Instead I excused myself to the bathroom and rubbed some of the tube contents on my neck.
From downstairs: "What are you doing now, asshole?"
"I'm up to my neck in Depeshit," I called down.
No answer.
Out the door to work, I am greeted by Fred "Froggy" Warner, the bohemian lawncare guy.
"Huh, huh, huh...hey Mr P."
"Froggy, the bushes are starting to take over."
"Just growing plants to block off the neighbors like you asked, Mr P," croaked Froggy.
My neighbors are the Hitlers, or the Mortons...I can't keep it straight. "Oh, right. Good work Froggy. Good fences, good neighbors, etcetera."
"Huh huh huh, that's a good one Mr P, real deep."
I swear as I walked off, I heard him say "that's some deep shit."
At the office cooler, I found myself all the rage. "Yadda yadda, something about the weather..." The minions were enraptured, hanging on every word. Murmers of "cool, deep, that's some deep shit" could be heard from all corners. The office is getting better all the time.
Stopping off at the local bar, my best hope of a late arrival at home unless there's a mass extinction event, I am the most popular patron. "You know, there's lots of fecal bacteria in those bar snack bowls," I offered.
More murmers of "Damn!" "He's smart!" "That's deep!" "That's some deep shit!"
I am on a roll, and enjoying free drinks as the barkeep grudgingly changes out the munchy plates.
At the house, I dodge Lucifer's maidservant and head straight to the bathroom for more Depeshit.
I can get used to this, I think, as I dab on more 'shit to the neck.
Then I hear the doorbell.
Outside, a disparate contingent awaits.
"Who are you guys?" I ask.
"Well Mr Pearson, I'm with the IRS--I'm here about your last 3 tax returns, which to say the least, are way the government's favor. These two gents behind me are with the DEA, something about the 12 marijuana plants on the border of your property. Oh, and those last guys are with the Police K-9 patrol. Apparently, their corpse dog has alerted on something in your back yard. You sir, are in some (wait for it...) deep shit."
Yup. Where the hell is that feedback card...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I gotta sell this to somebody

I have these great ideas for movies and TV, but no outlet.
My favorite is Death on the Bruise Cruise, a concept movie based on the Love Boat and Clue, but with a twist. On this cruise, infomercial Gurus and their successful (but not typical) clients are enjoying a mid-pacific journey to cross the International Dateline on New Years Eve, thereby getting two midnights. Between the two, someone gets murdered! But what great subplots that could lead to murder! Tony Little (Gazelle) and Tony Horton (Power 90X) supercompetitive at shuffleboard and at each other's throats; Susan Powter and Denise Austin, haggling over whose videos are teenage boy's favorite late night entertainment; nutcase Mathew Lesko playing nasty pranks on stuffed shirt real estate baron Carlton Sheets; Billy Blanks alternately amused and horrified at Richard get the idea.
So who gets murdered? Here are five popular jerks:
-Skin crawlin' Vince from Shamwow--ick!
-King Paranoid and convcted felon Kevin Trudeau of "things they don't want you to know" fame.
-Never-met-a-product-he-didn't-like Billy Mays--is he yelling or what?
-That creep that interviews "Doctors" about male enhancement and colon cleansing products.
-My personal favorite, "Hanoi Jane" Fonda--a little long in the tooth for those exercise videos anyway.
So who solves the murder? Absolutely: Klee Irwin of Dual-Action Cleanse fame--if he won't play himself, line up Steve Buschemi--it's a lock!!!
I don't know what's sadder--this idea or the fact that I/we know who all these people are...

Some new Reality TV ideas based on misleading titles:
The Bowler: Yeah, he rolls a line at the lanes on occasion, but his main mission is going town to town and making public speeches to bring back men's hats--you know, the bowler, fedora, pork pie, stovepipe, etc. His nemeses are baseball caps and Stetsons. Makes at least as much sense as plumbers hunting for ghosts.
The Key Grip: Not a logistician on a film set--this guy goes from bar to bar challenging only extremely drunk guys to arm wrestle. Vomiting isn't edited out. Awesome!
The Make-up artist: Sure, does carry around some cosmetics, but real mission is to visit quarreling couples and get them to "make up." In the Playboy Channel version, he stays around for the "make-up" sex.
Dude, where the @!#$ is my car?: A crack team of repo men follow Ashton Kutcher everywhere and keep stealing his ride. Extra points if Demi is inconvenienced. Punked!

Well, if you know anybody in "the business," feel free to pitch my ideas; but if anything develops don't forget, I get a percentage!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This time

Seek me darkness,
draw breathe from the West and
collide with blooming shadows.
Chase hot flickerings,
binge on dying embers.
Find me in moonlight
if you can;
you can always pretend.
I will not call to you
but if I'm there
I am balanced,
I promise.
Lightly touch and you will see
four corners that are me.
Walk backwards quickly, with or without your prize.
This time.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween, still great!

Halloween is my favorite holiday, bar none. Maybe that's blasphemy, but consider: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving were OK as a kid, but all involved exhaustive prep as an adult, which on occasion detracted disastrously from any celebration. Not so Halloween. Put on a mask, hand out candy. Halloween has changed since my childhood, but it still has a magical quality; and for me at least, harkens back to a time when as an 8-12 year old I could trick or treat several neighborhoods past darkness without danger. At least it felt safer than it does today.
Halloween gets a bad rep from revisionists who equate it with Satan-love.
There are 10 Federal holidays, and about half are under a cloud of constant attack or efforts to change or discredit them (see rundown below). Much-maligned Halloween is not a Federal holiday, but enjoys the status of international holiday based in the Celtic harvest celebration, or the age-old human weakness of trying to thank somebody for a good crop. Over the years its pagan origins seem to have absorbed a whole host of evils not part of the original intent. Today, there is nothing to link it to human sacrifice or devil worship except in the minds of those who link earth and harvest-based religions to Satan, and that's a real shame.
Rather than celebrate goodness and hope (Christmas, Easter, et al), Halloween is the only holiday that invites us mortals to laugh at the dark. Here is your chance to dismiss our fear of what's under our beds or in the closet. We all know there's real scary stuff out there. If you want to rail at something, consider the nightly news, which insists on bringing a home invasion story from East Orange, New Jersey, into our homes in Portland, Oregon. Media turns fear and horror anywhere, into fear and horror everywhere.
As a kid, my absolute worst nightmares were not about monsters. Long before I ever saw a horror movie, I was scared to death of bears, even in my bed in suburban Chevy Chase, Maryland. Even after I saw horror movies, the only monster I can remember dreaming about was a gorilla. How does this happen? Fear comes from many sources, we don't necessarily create them from myths.
My personal opinion is that we make fun of witches (which I don't believe in) and therefore deny them, rather than celebrating them, when we dress up and fool around at parties and on the neighborhood streets on October 31st.
Hey, there is something alluring about being scared, then being relieved by the obvious facade; who can say why?
Tonight, as kids and adults all over America don Scream masks, paint their faces, become Poltergeists, Princesses or Pirates and so on, they will know that we don't deny the scary, we face it head-on.
Be safe this Halloween, watch the kids and check the candy; but do not fear. Marvel instead at creativity and joy in dressing up, in meeting your neighbors by visiting their doorstep with a hearty "Trick or Treat!" And laughing at the dark.
Happy Halloween!

Hassles of the Holidays--I am the last person to complain about a paid holiday, but let's take a quick look:
-Washington's Birthday? Or is it referred to as President's Day so it can include Lincoln without adding another Federal Holiday? About 12 states call it the latter.
-Dr Martin Luther King Jr Birthday--need I say more? Did you know John McCain originally voted against this being a holiday but later recanted?
- Christmas: immaculate conception, now there's an easy concept for the earth's 6.5 billion citizens to wrap their heads around. Always gets the non-christian religions and atheists fired up--like that guy who lynches Santa Clause in his front yard every year. Why does a message of Peace on Earth, even from a certain religion, have to draw fire?
- Easter--returning from the dead, rebirth, very positive stuff; but to get to that point, you have to relive the betrayal, trial, torture, loneliness, and bottomless sorrow at the injustice of it all. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, the prequel definitely happened in all it's gruesomeness.
- Thanksgiving: The natives saved the Pilgrims asses that year, then look what we did for the natives...
- Fourth of July: seemingly perfect, but try to get decent fireworks in most states without breaking laws. Sparklers don't cut it...
- Columbus Day: See Thanksgiving, and bear in mind Columbus landed in the Carribean and wasn't that nice a guy anyway.

Bottom line: Yay for 3-day weekends!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

MVorpal's Truth Pulse Oct '08

After careful research and ponderance, the latest:

Crop Circles: All fake, get over it. I mean, really.
Big Foot: Maybe. Lots of fakes...we can only hope; but don't wager your youngest child.
UFOs: Oh hell yes. Look to the skies. And bring a camera.
Rods: No. Video vagary.
Zombies: Yes, if my neighbors count.
Nessie: Probably not, that water is cold, man.
Champ: See Nessie.
Chupacabra: No. Mangy mutant dogs.
Mothman: Let's hope not--seriously creepy.
Giant snakes, bears, arachnids: Yup. Nature is really pissed at us.
Gators in the sewers: I wish. They're in the backyard pond.
Ghosts: Lots of weirdness out there, but no. Residual phenomena for sensitives.
Vampires, werewolves, etc: No. Just deluded wannabees looking for that 15 minutes.
Area 51: It's there, but sorry, no saucers and aliens. The government likes to pretend they're hiding something.
Hangar 17: See Area 51.
Toejam: Sadly, yes.
Sex after 50: Sadly, no.
Funny new sitcom: No.
Fusion power in my lifetime: No.
Fusion power in your lifetime: No.
Trip to Mars in my lifetime: that would be cool.

Friday, October 24, 2008

If they had known more about Lincoln...

My only political blog entry, since the coming election is scary important.
First off, nothing you can tell me about President Lincoln will change my mind--he was the greatest man of his day, maybe all days, as far as being an American citizen. Someone else might have let the south secede--good grief, what would this continent, even the world, look like today? Honestly, I could see a slave-economy Confederacy having sided with facists in WW II. It must have been horrific to preside over the country during a half-million casualty civil war, but he got us through it, and displayed a humility at the end that started the country mending. However, we know now he suffered crippling depression at times, and that alone would probably shoot down his chances of presidency in today's vicious politic arena.
If greatness is evident only as a factor of the times, then which of our two viable choices for the coming election is capable of keeping the Union whole, of pulling us out of economic disaster or facing world war, of dodging the missiles of October? Is a "strong" leader strong in any and every circumstance, or do we have to win a cosmic lottery to have the right person at the right time?
The former possibility seems a long shot, but I think the latter is even more remote. I'd hate to think we just got lucky at critical junctures in our history. We are at another critical juncture, most of us believe.
If we can say we really know the candidates and can believe their promises, then what issue should we use to gauge, what should sway us. I once told my oldest daughter that during one election, I got emotional and voted solely on the right to life issue. Formerly a commited pro-choicer, I had an epiphany after hearing about all the abortion options and seeing what a fetus looks like at various stages. I could not fool myself into believing life, and the right to live, begins at birth; especially when fetuses are surviving ever-earlier pre-mature births. That said, I still feel there are circumstances where it might be "the right thing to do." Instances such as rape, incest and health of the mother. I realize that in saying that last part, I am hedging and therefore not in complete agreement with pro-life; but I'm OK with this seeming disconnect. I think few things pass a true "black or white" test.
It's really complicated out there, almost nothing is black or white. The candidate who makes a sweeping, concrete promise is overstating the power of the president. Both candidates say they will cut taxes--a lot. The experts say we can never afford it, and simple logic confirms it--we can't pay bills now, how can we cut government revenue?
OK, if we can't base our decision on campaign promises, maybe we have to "like" our candidate. Wait a minute, how can we like a candidate who has questionable acquaintenances, or one who wages a relentless negative campaign? Jeez, how distasteful!
Maybe we should go with experience. One has oodles, but has been around a loooooong time getting it. Should we be worried he'll die and pass the mantle to ....ulp. Experience would not carry the day there. The other has a short resume but lots of charisma. Does charisma = experience? Maybe not. If this one died in office, the VP would have oodles of experience, but you can't base a vote solely on expecting the death of a healthy young candidate.
So here's my point. The history books don't say all Lincoln's faults were widely known--and it's a sure thing all Nixon's and Kennedy's faults weren't. Simply put, we don't need to know everything we already know about these candidates. It's not that important. We only need to answer two questions: do we like the way things are going? And does the candidate mean to change that or not?
It may be just a question of faith. What do we believe will happen. I think it's as simple as this: one candidate will likely change things, one will largely not.
That's all I need to know, or believe. I know how I will vote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Put on your big boy pants and deal with it.

A couple weeks ago I had a bad week, but it reminded me of something from 15 years ago that brought a smile to my face. First, the week.
The night my son came to visit, I went to the airport to pick him up. The person staying with my wife had a dog phobia, and was afraid of our harmless but frisky 10 pound Bichon Frise. I put him in the garage with water and a bed. He must have barked for 5 hours, because I came home to an anonymous note in my mailbox saying essentially "don't mistreat animals or we will notify the authorities." It was signed "your neighbors."
Later that night the wife had a seizure that looked like a stroke, thus began a 4 day hospital stay.
A couple days later a collection agency told me that someone with whom I had co-signed for a Verizon cell phone 4 years ago had defaulted. And I had until 8 PM to fix it, and believe it or not, I did. But damage done, Verizon had already reported it to the credit bureaus. They said they wrote me 3 times in June/July warning me but I never got any letter--in truth it was during my wife's 2 month stay in ICU at MUSC Hospital in Charleston, and I was rarely home--but I had someone pick up the mail and I don't see how I could miss 3 letters? I doubt they ever sent them to my address, probably to the Las Vegas address of the other individual.
Next day I received a complaint and a visit from the Home Owners Association about rust stains on the house from the well-water sprinkler, and weeds on the edge of the pond behind the house (we rent, I could never afford to own this place). The complaint was from a neighbor who knows the problems we are having, but hey, why talk to people when you can complain to the HOA.
Maybe the worst thing was that after 6 months, Sheila succumbed to smoking again, even with COPD and spasms; we had a big blow-up there, but at least it gets her out of the bed because she has to smoke outside.
OK, so short of a pity party, I just felt pretty deflated. Then I remembered an old trick I used to use in the military, write down what's bugging me today, and put it in a letter. Pull it out in a month and see if the problems are still there, or if I still think of them as problems, and write next to them what happened. Usually, things aren't as bad as they seemed. Last time I did it, I left the list in a desk and forgot about it. A year later, the guy using my desk found me and said the list helped him immensely, especially the last entry. That entry read "I have no one to talk to."
That particular problem stemmed from the job I found myself in, where the circumstances don't allow you to open up to people about everything eating at you without serious fallout. It was a "no one understands" kind of comment. It was the only entry I continually put on the list without an answer, because I could never think of one. It was always there--but this time, I was tired of looking at it and had written next to it "Just deal with it." The guy who found the list said he felt the exact same way, and felt better because he knew someone else understood. It dawned on me no matter what you're going through, somebody understands.
The corollary is that somebody always has it worse, which I never forget.
So, here's the update.
We sold the barking dog (we had an add in the paper even before the barking episode), thank God, he was a lot of work; and I don't know who complained, but I've calmed down and it won't happen, at least over a dog, again.
The wife didn't have a stroke, and they changed her meds in the hospital and she seems to be doing better.
I wrote Verizon challenging the credit report, I'll let you know if I can ever recommend them again.
I was pissed about the HOA complaint, but rust remover worked, and a few hours at the pond actually did make it look better.
Lastly, Sheila does smoke, but only a couple cigarettes a day. I was not prepared to divorce her over it. It's an addiction, and one of the worst. Only time will tell how it affects her.
As for having no one to talk to? Well, there is this blog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Atmospheric Moment, and Abbot and Costello

Of all the odd things to flit through my head today, images of Dracula, and Abbot and Costello. Even more odd, it happened while watching Cowboy Movie Day on AMC. They posed the question "The western didn't die with John Wayne, who will replace him?" I'm thinking, he's the type of guy you don't replace. And just like that, started parading through a bunch of people you don't replace, like Humphrey Bogart after Casablanca, Cary Grant after North by Northwest, and Martin Landau after he played Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.
Bela Lugosi, now there was a character. In his 1930's movie, Dracula, he defined creepy terror, and that movie set the bar high for atmospheric backdrop. That moment when he announces himself on the huge, decrepit staircase in Castle Dracula, and proceeds to walk unruffled through a lattice of cobwebs that later snags the doomed Renfield--buddy, that there pinned your focus. Sadly, Bela was possibly the first actor to be branded with typecast, and never dug his way out. Landau's performance was the best kind of tribute, and in my opinion anointed Landau with that unreplaceableness.
Now comes the odd reach--Bela appeared in one picture with Abbot and Costello, they of the near-Einsteinian "Who's on First" routine. An A and C picture, ultimately a B-movie standard, was perhaps a telling and poignant commentary on Bela's career. Universal Studios didn't know what else to do with Bela. Being in that film, one of the string of "Abbot and Costello Meet..." movies, offered him another chance to be Dracula, and he ate it like a twelve course dinner. Also in the film, the Wolfman (played by a man who nailed the haunted, tragic victim role, Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein monster (played by Glenn Strange, who later played the barkeep in Miss Kitty's saloon in Gunsmoke). Yup, there's a full moon and in the final showdown, Dracula is fighting off a raging Wolfman while A & C run from the monster, who, in this movie at least, works for the Big Sucker. The terrified duo is trapped in a room, but quick thinking(!?) Lou Costello grabs a blanket and whips it around his shoulders like a cape. Holding it in front of his face in the classic Dracula style, he commands the monster "Back, back..." Amazingly, the monster backs up and mutters "yes, master..."
SOB, it's working!!!
Suddenly, Costello drops his arm, looks back at Abbot, chuckles and says "He thinks I'm Dracula." Of course, the spell is broken and the chase is back on.
In that one single moment, Lou Costello, B actor and comedian, portrays courage, smugness, stupidity, and innocence. I defy you to give me an example of that by any other actor.
A and C tanked in their TV series, limited production budgets and more mundane settings than those in the movies made it unfunny and unwatchable. I sure miss them, but I still enjoy their movies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

This isn't supposed to be the "Blog of the Mad Fulltime Caregiver," I just can't escape the fact that so much of my life these days is about this process. I have learned tricks involving lifting limp bodies, protecting limbs during myoclonic spasms, managing up to a dozen prescription drugs simultaneously, feeding, cleaning and clothing an adult, etc. Tell you what though, I'll steer clear of that as much as I can.

I started thinking about what it's like to be on the other side, the recipient. Not just being sick, we've all been there; I'm talking about what a person thinks about when they don't know when or if they will recover from mental or physical ill health. Helplessness, hopelessness, courage, resolve, etc. There must be hundreds of books about both sides of this dilemma. I haven't read any of them. I suspect many people transition into these roles so gradually that only later do they think about support groups and self-help books. Trust me, after 5 months I'm thinking about them.

In the meantime, I have observed what may be obvious to many, but hit home to me only recently.

First, a test question. Have you ever noticed an abandoned shopping cart or basket in a store, and wondered why someone would do that? You might think the person just changed their mind about shopping and left mid-aisle, although this would seem an odd circumstance to most of us. Store managers would tell you it's a common ploy of shoplifters, and that's true. But there's a third possibility, and I've seen it for myself--the person may have had a panic attack and ran home.

This is a fairly recent insight, but not the most recent. People who find they can't go out or stay out for long have to create their own world. I think QVC, HSN and SNBC are safe harbors and surrogate families for the lonely, the agorophobic, the shut-in. My wife keeps the TV glued to QVC, occasionally HSN, and she likes to fall asleep to it. It drives me absolutely nuts. To me it's endless prattle about the most minute detail of largely uninteresting retail items. Unless they are promoting something unusual, you're going to find a better deal on the internet. The thing is, they are peddling much more.

The men on these shows are amiable, non-threatening, best guy in the world types. The women are the same, and though many are glamorous, ego and self-importance are not evident. Models are sometimes gorgeous, but equally as many are more plain, and many are plus-sized. The gamut of happy family archetypes is present, sans kids for the most part. And there are call-ins, supposedly testimonials for the products but often friendly exchanges and compliments. Some of these people (maybe most) are multiple repeat customers, actually admitting they have more than one of the sold items.

This symbiotic relationship is evolutionary. I don't think they started out targetting homebodies, but clearly they have identified their demographic and have fine-tuned the process. I originally found this distasteful, but later, thought it was a pretty fair deal. See, much as I hate being tied to the house as a caregiver I still have the ability, if not the opportunity, to leave. Since there are those who have neither, they can at least tune in to watch people who are friendly and available and have cultivated themselves to appeal to you. And nobody makes you pick up the phone and buy something, that's still optional.

In my house, 50% of that stuff gets sent back anyway...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pain of Uncertainty

Do you remember when, as a child, you first realized doctors can't fix everything? I do, but rather than recount the specific circumstance, I'm more interested in the "dance," as I came to understand it. Basically, MDs recommend tests, prescribe pills or refer to "specialists." Specialists recommend tests, prescribe pills or refer to surgeons. And surgeons cut, then prescribe pills. In the interstices, there are permutations on life-style changes that each will recommend; among the most famous: get some exercise, lose weight, and stop smoking.
I am not at odds with this structure. It works in many cases, as it did successfully with my, ahem, lower body surgery. But over the last say, 10 years, I have seen the ugly side of modern medicine.
Let's say you go to a doctor with a painful complaint or other symptom. You go through the dance, but pills don't help and surgery isn't indicated by any of the many tests you've taken. These tests tell you what you don't have. Now you enter a period of try this try that, and eventually you just give up and learn to cope. Second opinion? If insurance won't cover it, for any of several reasons, it's a non-option.
Another situation is pain management. I recently read a story about doctors who find themselves before the medical boards for prescribing "too much pain medication," and in several instances they are in trouble with civil authorities for "drug dealing." Many of these doctors were treating patients for chronic pain, like cancer or fibromyalgia. In fear of being persecuted, the article suggested many doctors will not prescribe sufficient pain meds but instead suggest pain management training or coping skills. Pain is pain, man.
Another situation is when a patient has multiple problems and is seeing 3 or more different specialists in addition to a PCM (primary care manager). No single one of these people is on top of the patients health situation in the holistic sense.
OK, my point is these three situations apply to my wife, who at the moderate age of 50, is basically an invalid. We are in limbo at this time waiting to see if a regimen of pills and therapy will restore her to some semblance of independence, but none of her doctors is making any promises.
The uncertainty of the future has a whole different meaning when it's about your health, than say, your favorite football team's next game.
As a kid, I remember my mom speaking in reverent tones about a doctor's visit (they used to make house calls in those days) like everything would be OK, because the doctor would see to it. The truth is a little disappointing--we mostly heal on our own for everyday ills, and doctors just prescribe symptom treatments. The truth is doctors can't fix everything, and in some instances can't fix anything. But, we dance.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 1

An original title for this first entry if ever there was one. My daughter blogs and I'm going to give it a try. If I can't be witty and engaging, I will quit. That is, unless I tickle myself endlessly in a modestly self-absorbed way.

You are what you eat? Tell it to the bedpan. Today I changed a bedpan three times. Twice it contained a dark passenger; a reminder that no matter what you eat, you can't keep it. Oh, I guess you keep a lot of it, I myself have traded a six-pack for a minikeg. Earlier today my wife informed me I have about 6-8 pounds of undigested food in my intestines. This must be true, the colon cleanse info-mercial is beyond reproach. Isn't Klee Irwin photogenic? They confirm John Wayne, the Duke, had 42 pounds of the stuff when he died. I want to know what the hell they were doing in his intestines. "Hey, it was The Duke, we couldn't resist?" OK, maybe. But, how do you measure intestine content? Do you remove it from the corpse, stick a garden hose in one end and flush it into a container? Wouldn't it then contain water which itself is 6.5 pounds per gallon? I am suspiscious of this 42 pounds number. And, I can never watch the Duke's films in quite the same way again. I hope you're happy, Mr Irwin.