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...